I’ve written this about 3 times, with a dozen different iterations rolling through my mind over the last two weeks, and I think I’ve finally figured out how I want to speak about a decision I’ve made that I think my friends would want to know about, or I would want them to know about (if for no other reason than to spare me from telling the story more times than is necessary). So, here it goes:
The last time I posted on this blog, I published some insights about faith that I’d shared with my congregation. In the few months since I wrote those thoughts, I’ve been reminded that that perspective on faith was narrow and that I was missing a crucial element of true faith.
Until recently, I haven’t had the words to articulate the difference. Last week though, I was listening to a speech delivered to the entirety of my church at a semi-annual session of something we call “general conference“. During that speech (we idiosyncratically call them “talks” … the most literal thing we could possibly call them), one leader named Elder Dennis E. Simmons taught:
“As a young man, I returned home from an eighth-grade basketball tournament dejected, disappointed, and confused. I blurted out to my mother, “I don’t know why we lost–I had faith we’d win!”
I now realize that I did not then know what faith is.
Faith is not bravado, not just a wish, not just a hope. True faith is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ–confidence and trust in Jesus Christ that leads a person to follow Him.
Centuries ago, Daniel and his young associates were suddenly thrust from security into the world–a world foreign and intimidating. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to bow down and worship a golden image set up by the king, a furious Nebuchadnezzar told them that if they would not worship as commanded, they would immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. “And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”
The three young men quickly and confidently responded, “If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.” That sounds like my eighth-grade kind of faith. But then they demonstrated that they fully understood what faith is. They continued, “But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” That is a statement of true faith.”
That’s the difference! As timid as I may be at applying it sometimes, it’s fairly easy for me to remember what the first half of faith looks like. It’s the second half that’s infinitely trickier. What happens when you faith-dive head first into a pool of challenges, or insecurities, or unknowns, or a million different possibilities, and you come up gasping for air, struggling to tread water? What then?
Do you throw your hands up feeling like God has abandoned you? Do you get out of the deep end? Certainly, those are compelling temptations and the truth is, I’m not sure what the answer is (though I’m confident it’s neither of the two previously listed options) in any given situation. The challenge is that the answer, or at least a sufficient piece of it, lies in the one place we’re wary to go.
Can you imagine what it might feel like for a young child to go and ask a lifeguard for swimming lessons right after that same lifeguard seemed to leave them to drown just moments before? If you can, then you may have a sense for what it might feel like for a person to turn to God after an apparent faith-led failure.
If you can, then you might have some sense for what the master of misery might try to make me feel like after I realized that I couldn’t continue in law school.
Now seems as good a time as any to get the announcement portion of this post out of the way: I’ve decided to take a step back from my studies at BYU Law for the remainder of the year so I can focus on resolving long-unresolved health issues. BYU is holding a spot for me to return in the fall, but for now, I’ve chosen to move back to Rexburg.
I’ve been trying to figure out how much I’m comfortable with sharing–that both communicates where I am but also doesn’t give too much credence to my circumstances. I’ve decided that 1. I don’t want to give this small part of a larger story so much weight, and 2. For me, if I kept it too private, or made it some pseudo-secret, I would be giving my mind too much latitude to assign shame to this experience. So, instead, I’m leaning into vulnerability a bit.
As a related aside, let this be a reminder about judgment. Most people are surprised when they first learn about my chronic health issues. Most people would be surprised to know that living and living in pain are essentially the same for me. I don’t want to dwell on the specifics, because I’m trying not to let those details be the ones that define the narrative of this chapter in my life, but I do want to note that everyone has their “thing”. Whether that’s physical or mental and emotional health, devastation in the family, or work or whatever, we all have something that we’re carrying. We all have some brick tied to our ankles and it’s worth noting that the heaviest bricks we carry are sometimes invisible to the naked eye. Be empathetic, and patient, and willing to help bear one another’s burden rather than minimizing or denying their existence in other’s lives. Okay, back to where we were.
Choosing to go to law school was a leap of faith that I hadn’t anticipated or chosen. I agonized over the decision and was more than a little hesitant to leave my life in Rexburg for this new, hazy dream. And yet, I decided to move forward with faith–or at least the first half of faith–because I felt like I would be more useful to God and the causes I’m passionate about if I did.
Pretty quickly though, my body started giving me clues that it wasn’t okay. That it couldn’t keep up. Obviously, I was hesitant to give any volume to those inclinations because I desperately wanted to be wrong about them. After all, the first year of law school is notoriously difficult to navigate. Most of the law school grads I spoke to before heading to BYU would meet my inquiries about being a 1L (first-year law student) with a chuckle, a grin, and counsel to remember that you shouldn’t judge your law school experience by your first year.
So, early on, I started working with the Dean of Students and my wonderful and impossibly brilliant professors to try to make a path I could travel. I can’t recall a single significant thing I’ve prematurely stepped away from (other than leaving my life to head to BYU Law) that wasn’t a direct or secondary result of my health difficulties. In short, my health has always been the “but if not…”.
In this situation though, I desperately wanted a miracle to change that. And, to be honest, I felt entitled to one. I felt like God owed me because I had done this brave thing. Granted, I’d never thought about it quite so bluntly–I would’ve laughed at myself if I had–but that was the space I was living in.
After all that though, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to continue in law school in the manner I’d anticipated. I had several options, and I’ll spare you the details, but ultimately, I realized that I wanted to step back and give everything I have to ensuring that in the future, if my health was going to continue to hold me back, it would be after I had done everything in my power to mitigate that. In other words, I am going to walk forward in faith with a genuine, spiritual hope that we’ll figure out how to heal whatever’s broken, but if not… I will walk forward knowing that I’ve done everything I can. After that, it’s incumbent upon me to accept the reality of what is, and move forward with the best of my ability.
In fact, that’s my charge at this moment as well. There’s no denying that this is a bittersweet experience at this moment in time–yes, I’m thrilled to be back at my old office, doing something I care about, but I’m also mourning the loss of going forward with my incredible classmates as I work toward my next degree. It does me no good, however, to cling to a future that cannot come to fruition. Instead, I need to embrace, like we all need to embrace, the second half of faith.
It turns out, that the lifeguard whose assistance we all need, never left our side. Instead, when He asks us to continue to struggle, or swim deeper into the tormenting waters, He is actually below us. Holding us up. Making sure that those bricks that we all carry don’t become too much to bear.
In our moments of doubt, we need to thank God that we will never be given more than we can carry with the help of a loving Savior. Furthermore, we need to thank God for the testament he gives us of how strong He knows we truly are.
As Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith said during Super Soul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey, “Your potential is always bigger than whatever problem you’re going through.”
So, jump, headfirst into faith.
Returning to Elder Simmons’s address, we need to remember that ours is a God of miracles. “Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not … He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.
Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.”
So, yes. This is a tough moment for me. But it is just a moment. And in this moment, I will choose to find joy and growth. In this moment, I will be grateful for my incredible support systems in Idaho and Utah. In this moment, I will continue to pursue my education with all the vigor I can muster. In this moment, I will ask to be taught how to swim with the bricks I’ve been given. In this moment, I will do all I can to become strong, but if not…