At the conclusion of this series on the challenges to faith that abound in the world, I want to spend some time reflecting on why my faith has maintained a central position in my life. I don’t do this to hold up my unfinished faith as a model of perfection; rather, I do it because my faith is the only faith that I know intimately. Further, only through the lens of direct experience can we see faith for what it is: a deep trust in a higher power, a trust that comes from answered prayers, inspired actions, and unimagined successes.
Recently, I started teaching undergraduate writing. At times exhilarating and at times harrowing, the experience of standing in front of a classroom to teach first-year university students has ended up teaching me a great deal about my strengths and, of course, about my weaknesses. In the midst of all the reading, planning, lecturing, and grading, however, I’ve also learned something about my faith, about God’s readiness and willingness to help His children wherever they may be.
For example, I sat at my desk the other day, less than an hour from teaching the fundamentals of rhetorical analysis. Even though I had worked on the lesson days ahead of time, the plan that sat before me that morning was a discouraging wreck: it wasn’t well organized, it wasn’t interesting, and it seemed sure to fail. Without much time before the start of class, that meant that I was sure to fail.
While I worked and reworked my ruined plan, discouragement started to give way to despair. I had hit a dead end, and it seemed too late to turn around. So, relying on the only help I knew I could trust, I prayed, believing that a loving, all-knowing God would have a good idea of what I should do. He did. Soon, a sense of peace returned to me, and I saw that the weakness in my plan was easier to fix than I had first realized. With that new clarity, I made a few changes and took my repaired plan to class. When the lesson was over, I saw that the students had learned what I was supposed to teach them, and I left the classroom relieved of my earlier fears and buoyed by a newly confirmed faith.
Perhaps a salvaged lesson plan seems like a very small thing. Who’s to say that I couldn’t have solved my problem on my own—or that I didn’t? While I don’t have any physical evidence of the heavenly help that I received, I do know what I experienced. I was stuck with no apparent way out, and, in answer to a simple prayer, I found a simple solution that I wouldn’t have found on my own.
Ultimately, it is through the years-long accumulation of small and simple experiences like this one that my faith has developed. I know that God lives because He has answered innumerable prayers in subtle yet unmistakable ways. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior because I have felt peace and reassurance as I’ve sought both His comfort and His forgiveness. I know that the Bible and the Book of Mormon contain the word of God because my own continuing effort to live according to their teachings has brought me understanding, direction, and courage.
In the Gospel of John, the Savior challenged the people at the temple, saying, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:16-17), suggesting that the only sure way to confirm one’s faith is to live it. Through the heaping up of experiences demonstrating that blessings come to those who put their trust in God, anyone can come to know that their faith is valid. With their faith thus rooted in firsthand experience, they can withstand the faith-weakening influences of popular philosophies, intellectual posturing, or their own human weakness.
Surely, faith founded on experience is resilient and reliable—but what excites me even more is that such faith is universally accessible. A person doesn’t need any special qualifications or strengths. Instead, the only key to faith is a trusting heart and a willingness to put that trust to work in order to build a lasting foundation of personal experience with the gentle goodness of God.