Have you ever had a really important question, or struggled with some piece of information? You are having a hard time finding an answer or coming to terms with that information, and the person(s) you reach out to say something to the effect of “Just have faith?” You know that’s the right answer, and of course you want to have faith; you want that desperately! But the answers to your questions or the need to receive clarity are so important that you struggle, and having faith – as important as it is – seems so far away and so difficult. I have felt those feelings before. If you haven’t had such an experience, let me create a scenario that will hopefully help you understand.
We’ll use a universal question: Is there life after death? As Latter-day Saints we know the answer is, yes. We have mountains of evidence to that yes: the accounts in the Bible and Book of Mormon from those whom Christ visited after He was resurrected, the visions of the Spirit World and the three kingdoms that many prophets have had, and the dreams that thousands of individuals have had of their loved ones and ancestors visiting them are a few examples. But what if there appeared to be zero evidence that life after death existed? What if the only answer to that question was, “Just have faith?” Wouldn’t that be so hard to hear? That is an extremely important question. Our entire earthly lives and the decisions we make are based on the answer to that question. That’s what it feels like with other important questions when the only answer is “Just have faith.”
In his most recent address in the General Women’s session, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed such an issue. He told the story of a little girl and her grandmother going on a walk, the little girl pointed out every sound to her grandmother. When the grandmother explained that she couldn’t hear very well, her granddaughter said, “Grandma! Listen harder!”
President Uchtdorf explained that telling someone to “listen harder” – or in most cases, “just have faith”, “pray harder”, or “study harder” – is not very helpful. Instead, he said that better advice would be to “listen differently.” So, if we are the ones helping someone, we help them look at what answers or information they have from a different point of view, the Lord’s point of view. And if we are the one who needs help, President Uchtdorf tells us exactly how to “just have faith.”
The first step to having faith is knowing what faith is. President Uchtdorf described it as “a strong conviction about something we believe – a conviction so strong that it moves us to do things that we might otherwise not do.” With that conviction we are able to believe in things that cannot be seen, heard, or felt by our mortal bodies.
How can we believe in something that there appears to be no physical evidence of? President Uchtdorf used the story of the girl and her grandmother to explain that, “Just because we can’t hear something doesn’t mean there is nothing to hear.” The same goes for unanswered questions. Just because we haven’t found the answer yet, doesn’t mean the answer doesn’t exist. This is where listening differently comes in. I had a question that I had spent years studying. When I got my answer, I struggled to accept it. It had to be wrong. There was something I was missing – but deep down inside I knew that the answer I had received was true. After some time I came to my husband about my struggle. He helped me look at my answer in such a different light, that I immediately felt calm and was able to accept it. If I hadn’t reached out to him I would still be struggling with that question.
We also need to understand and accept the limitations that faith has. First, faith cannot violate another person’s agency. Several years ago, a close family member struggled to believe in the Church and stopped attending. In those early years I prayed frequently for them to return. When no progress was made, I became angry at them. I knew that God was hearing my prayers, but I believed my family member was not accepting whatever way God was trying to answer my prayers. Looking back it was not fair to be angry at them. They are going through an intense struggle, anger is not what they need from me. I came to the realization that I needed to change my prayers from asking God to change that person, to asking Him to change me. I started asking Heavenly Father what I needed to do to be an example. I also asked for help with patience and love, and anything else I could do to help. The answers to that prayer have changed over the years, but they continue to come. I love that person so much, and as my prayers have changed for the better, so has my relationship with them.
Second, faith cannot force our will upon God. President Uchtdorf said, “the purpose of faith is not to change God’s will but to empower us to act on God’s will.” In the Book of Mormon, the Lord commanded that, “thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.” (Helaman 10:5) Understanding this can drastically change how we pray.
Instead of asking God for something to go a certain way, we ask him what is His way. Doing that comes in many different ways. Sometimes we study and make a decision that we bring to God in prayer and ask if that is the right decision. (See D&C 9:8) Other times we ask God to guide us as we are studying so that we can find what we are looking for. As long as our purpose is to learn and act on God’s will, our questions will get answered.
Acting on God’s will requires faith and trust; specifically, trust in Him. How do we have that faith and trust to not only receive our answers, but act on them as well? We must choose to have faith. Faith is a choice. Heavenly Father doesn’t bestow faith on one person, while withholding it from another. This choice is best made ahead of time, before we come face to face with something that requires faith. In October 2015, Elder Neil L. Andersen said:
“Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air. Faith does not fall upon us by chance or stay with us by birthright. It is, as the scriptures say, ‘substance …, the evidence of things not seen.’ Faith emits a spiritual light, and that light is discernible. Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from heaven that comes as we choose to believe and as we seek it and hold onto it…The future of your faith is not by chance,but by choice.”
Does our faith need to be perfect in order for it to work? Absolutely not! President Uchtdorf taught us to “walk by whatever faith we have, seeking always to increase our faith.” In the same talk mentioned above Elder Andersen taught:
“Faith never demands an answer to every question but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward, sometimes acknowledging, ‘I don’t know everything, but I do know enough to continue on the path of discipleship’…In a future day, you will have 100 times more information than from all of today’s search engines combined, and it will come from our all-knowing Father in Heaven.”
Until then, we hang onto the faith we have, and we keep knocking. God has promised us if we knock, He will answer.
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
At the end of his talk, President Uchtdorf asked, “Will we give up after knocking on a door or two? A floor or two? Or will we keep seeking until we have reaching the fourth floor, last door?” I think it is important that all of us personally answer those questions for ourselves. We need to make the decision now to keep searching, have faith, and trust in the Lord and His timing. That is how we “just have faith”, by making the decision now to have it. When we make the decision now, we will be better prepared to handle the questions, struggles, and doubts that we will encounter in our future.