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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

GUEST POST: Two Very Different Missionary Stories

By Sarah Allen

[The following is a guest post in relation to my previous blog entitled "A Statistical Mystery." I welcome guest posts on subjects of interest to me or this blog, and from any writers who feel they have insights that cannot be contained in one of the comments. Or maybe you just have thoughts that you'd like to share. Such blogs should be well-written and thought-provoking. And this one certainly is.]

Chris asked a question about why more members don't bear their testimonies to their friends. I have two very different stories I'd like to share.

When I was in high school, I met this girl on the internet. We clicked instantly and got to be very close very fast, and it was just ridiculous how similar we were in our thoughts and feelings on everything...except for religious matters. I grew up in the church, and she grew up with a fairly well-known astrologer for a stepfather. Where we're taught to turn to Heavenly Father for guidance, she was taught to look to her horoscope. Despite this, we were about as much alike as two people could be.

Eventually, I got a prompting to talk to her about the church. She knew I was LDS, but hadn't ever shown any interest in what that meant beyond minor curiosity about things like why I'd never had tea before. I didn't want to be pushy when she clearly wasn't interested, and I didn't want to strain this friendship I'd come to cherish. I also wasn't entirely sure if it was a prompting from the Lord or just my own thoughts. But the feeling came more and more frequently, and more and more insistantly, until I finally decided to do it.

I laid the groundwork, asking her to keep an open mind, then bore her my testimony and launched into the story of the First Vision. I explained that I'd received an answer to my prayers a few years before, confirming that this was true and that I didn't have any doubts about it. She knew I never would have said so unless I really meant it, and because it was so important to me, to her that made it worth learning a little about. She asked me a few questions and I answered them as well as I could, though I felt inadequate to be doing it.

Having grown up in Utah, I'd always been surrounded by people that knew the basic beliefs of the church, or at least the common phrases and doctrinal explanations that we use. I'd had conversations with my nonmember friends before about what we each believed and why, but I'd never had to explain things to somebody who had never heard any of it before. So much of it was so completely foreign to her that I was scared I was botching it up completely. Eventually, I referred her to the missionaries in her area and explained that they'd probably be able to answer her questions better than I could.

She asked me a few more questions, and then the subject sort of petered out between us. I just assumed that after her initial curiosity had been addressed, she wasn't interested anymore, and out of a desire not to seem pushy or offensive, I didn't press the subject. Then one day, completely out of the blue, she told me that she'd read the Book of Mormon a few times, she'd been taking missionary discussions and talking to them about all of her questions, and she was going to be baptized. Since then she's been married in the temple to a returned missionary, has three beautiful children, and is still strong in the Gospel.

That experience ended as well as any missionary effort ever could have. The other situation, however, is a different story entirely.

My other best friend was also not a member of the church. We had been very good friends for nearly a decade, and over the years, we'd had many conversations about our beliefs and values. We didn't agree with each other, but we respected the other's beliefs and didn't let it become an issue.

A few years ago, I had something of a spiritual epiphany where I realized that my life was getting seriously off track for various reasons, and that I needed to fix it. I also realized that this girl, who had always been respectful of my beliefs before, was now pulling disgusted, incredulous faces, rolling her eyes, and literally turning up her nose whenever I mentioned anything about the church. She was also making the occasional snide comment about it. As it began happening with greater frequency and hostility, the more uncomfortable I started to feel. All of this meant that our friendship was starting to show some strain. I started to wonder to myself if it would eventually reach the point where I'd have to choose between our friendship and the church. That's not a normal thought to be having, so I told myself that I was just being melodramatic, but the idea persisted over the years.
When these thoughts started occuring more frequently, I started rationalizing them away, telling myself that I'd never had a problem with any of my other nonmember friends before, that if I did end the friendship because of the church, it'd make her very bitter toward the Gospel, and that I could be a positive influence for her spiritually, rather than letting her be a negative influence spiritually for me. But then we'd immediately fall right back into our old patterns, and I'd backslide on my repentence, and nothing would change, except that she'd get a little more caustic in her attacks on the church. Finally, I started to make some real headway, and kept myself surrounded almost exclusively by spiritual things to help change my thoughts and behavior.

Things progressed to the point that I couldn't say anything about the Church at all in her presence, and because I was immersing myself in the Gospel, I was having all these amazing experiences and insights that I couldn't share with her. It was driving a real wedge into the friendship. It got to where I was only offering up small talk about work and my family. She didn't seem to notice, though she did notice that we were starting to argue more frequently.

One day, I realized that she was not only enabling my bad behavior, but in certain cases she was actively encouraging it, while at the same time, trying to tear down my faith. I don't think for one minute that it was done consciously, but it was happening. When I sat her down and explained that I needed to change some things about our friendship and the way we related to each other, she became extremely defensive and angry. I knew full well that I was mostly to blame for letting things progress to that point, and obviously for my own behavior, but she took it as a personal attack and started attacking back, and it turned into a very nasty argument. We'd already been fighting because our friendship had been so strained by all the ickyness of the past few years, but this time everything just exploded.
When it's easier to live the Gospel when you aren't speaking to somebody, it becomes clear what needs to be done, so eventually I ended the friendship.

Throughout the last six months of this, I'd been feeling as though I should give her a Book of Mormon. I could just imagine how well that'd go over after everything, so I didn't want to do it. I'd born my testimony to her on numerous occasions over the years,but she'd also made it quite clear that she never wanted to hear it again. I bought her a book, but I haven't given it to her yet because I don't know what to say to her about it. We aren't on speaking terms, and it could either mend things completely, or ensure that she'll never, ever join the Church. If I were to give her a Book of Mormon now, on top of all of this, at best she'd throw it in the garbage unread, and at worst, she would be extremely bitter and antagonistic toward the church. She probably already does blame the Church for a lot of this, because I really didn't handle the situation well at all, and she strongly holds onto grudges. I do need to apologize to her for the way I let things get so ugly toward the end, and I'll probably do that when I do send her the book, but I don't know if it'll do any good at all. I know there's a reason I've been feeling I need to give it to her, but knowing her the way I do, I can't see this having any other result than her turning against the church forever. I guess that's where the whole idea of having faith comes in, though.

This is the type of situation that members have nightmares about when they think of bearing their testimony to their friends. It's exactly what we're all afraid of: that no matter how sincere we are, no matter how much of what we say is motivated by great love for our friends, no matter how strongly we feel prompted to say something, that it'll lead not only to an estrangement between friends, but that it might, ultimately, lead to these people that we love so much being so antagonistic toward the church that they'll never accept the Gospel, and they'll never be able to return home to our Father in Heaven.

As the years go by, people are becoming more and more strongly divided on the issue of religion. The thought of opening our mouths and bearing our testimonies, when we know that it could turn a good friend into a bitter enemy, is hard to accept. We know we're commanded to do it and we'll continue to do it as best as we can, but I don't think it's very surprising that there's some hesitation sometimes. We should all be doing better, and we should all be sharing what we have, because it truly is the most important gift we will ever have to give to another human being. But it's scary, and sometimes, it takes us humans a little time to gather our courage and demonstrate faith. It's not just because we don't want to seem pushy and weird, and it's not just because we're worried about causing some strain in a friendship. Sometimes it's because we're scared we're going to be the cause of irreparable harm to somebody's eternal salvation.


  1. My feeling, Sarah, is that just as it often takes more than one testimony to provoke curiosity, it also takes more than one bad example to "cause irreparable harm to one's eternal salvation." And remember, we only say the words. The Holy Ghost takes it from there. So swallow your fears! Display some faith. And the Holy Ghost will be there to assist in all that you do. That the Lord's eternal promise. Take Him up on it. Thanks for a wondeful post, Sarah.

  2. Wow! Those are definitely opposite ends of the spectrum! My best friend was less active for many years but has just started coming back. There was a time though that we couldn't talk much about it without her getting that glazed over look, but with her gradual return the Spirit was a very clear guide around her because she has a very pure heart so it was really easy for me to judge what was appropriate. Now I'm really happy for the ability to have deep discussions with her regularly, and her strength amazes me. My own conversion went from being very angry and cynical (sometimes I would be angry because I would feel something when my brother spoke to me of the Gospel and it robbed me of my cynicism) but I'm so grateful he persisted with listening to the promptings of the Spirit in the face of flat out aggression. I guess that's why we have to listen to the Spirit, because Heavenly Father knows the big picture and whatever the outcome, we need to have faith that it's for the best even if it's from a perspective we can't understand. All the best with sharing the Book of Mormon with her! I admire your courage to follow that prompting anyway.

  3. I appreciate that, Chris, and the other comments you gave me this past week or so, as we've discussed some of this. You're definitely right, it's time to demonstrate a little faith.

    I hope the diet's going well.

  4. Sometimes I feel we may be holding ourselves accountable for the choices, or even potential choices, of others. We are accountable for our own actions/choices, and so forth. We also are accountable for the influence we have on others. We cannot control other people and they, therefore, are accountable for how they accept or reject our influence. If they never receive our influence (i.e., offering our testimony along with the Book of Mormon) they do not have that chance to even allow, or likewise reject, and therefore be accountable. We, however, are accountable for our inaction when we do not use our choices to present appropriate influence. Yes, it can be difficult to present the right influence in such a way that gives others the best opportunity to accept it. What we cannot choose are the consequences that may come from a rejection. As pointed out in the post, therein we find the uncomfortable feelings that accompany risking potential rejection of our well-intentioned influence and the consequences of the rejection. It may help to keep in mind that we are not accountable/responsible for their choice to reject, but we are accountable for our influence, good or bad, presented or withheld. Our anxieties and worries are generally strongest around the parts of the interactions we do not have control over. It helps to focus on what we can control and do our best, drawing on the power, inspiration, and influence of the Holy Spirit, to provide our best, appropriate influence. Rejection hurts on many levels. We are concerned about their current and future well-being. We are concerned about our relationships past, present, and future. These are just a few of the concerns we may have. It is difficult at times to risk potential negative consequences. If we do not at least risk the pain of rejection, we can never experience the joy of acceptance. We may perceive the rejection (their choice) as lesser pain when compared to the torment we experience from holding back (our choice) our positive influence, testimony, way of life and so forth. This tends to be a fear associated with worrying about the future and currently unmade choices by the person we desire to influence (things that are out of our personal control, but perhaps not out of our personal influence). The long term consequences of holding back can be devastating to our personal progress and may have eternal considerations regarding out accountability. I do not mean for this to come across as doom and gloom. We need to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit with full intent to follow the promptings. In doing so, we are ultimately choosing the right no matter what the choices of others may be.