Can Faith Be a Decision?

Lately I’ve been in a spiritual slump. Day after day the spiritual feelings haven’t come. I keep wondering what is wrong. I experienced such an outpouring of the Spirit for months after my son’s death, but right now I’m feeling nothing. My last few visits to the temple have been pleasant experiences, but  haven’t birthed one spiritual feeling.  I continue to read the scriptures, but inexplicably not one verse jumps out at me, not one ah hah! comes, not one spiritual reassurance brings tears of joy.

This morning I awoke with my mind full of possible answers.  I suspect that faith is more a decision than a feeling. My feelings are fickle, and can change with the weather, with my level of physical well-being, with the ups and downs of daily life. I may feel some days that my spiritual efforts are fruitless, or that the Lord is simply not listening to me, but feelings are not facts. Yes, the Holy Ghost often speaks through my feelings-but so can the adversary! When I give the voice of the  adversary any credence at all, the feelings that result may be  discouragement, self-doubt, bitterness, disillusion, depression.

I have found in my recent circumstance that many times faith is a decision-the only decision that makes any sense. Some days I have made the decision in favor of faith simply because I couldn’t bear the misery of the alternative. Regardless, I am learning that I can choose in favor of faith no matter how I feel. My feelings may be strongly affected by physical maladies, fatigue, and negative thoughts. But my inner compass, my spirit self is not. I KNOW the gospel is true even when I do not FEEL it, and I KNOW it because I have the witness of countless others, a multitude of spiritual witnesses I have received myself,  and a lifetime of evidence from trying an experiment on the word (see Alma 32). The latter is an example of the kind of action that springs from a decision to plant the seeds from which strong faith can grow.

When DOING Must Come Before KNOWING

I recall a character in Gerald Lund’s Work and the Glory series named Will. He struggled for months trying to get his own testimony of the truthfulness of the Church and the Book of Mormon, but felt nothing. Finally, one day he came across a scripture that contained the words, “”If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God of whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17) Will pondered the sequence of the words:  “Do . . . . and then you shall know. . .” He finally recognized that he had been wanting to KNOW before he made the full effort to DO. But it is so often by the DOING that the KNOWING comes. When Will made the decision to be obedient, to move ahead and DO, the feeling of sure testimony followed soon after.

Following Alma’s advice to DO an experiment on the word is always the best way to learn whether the word is true. I have to plant the seed of faith, than nurture it, before I can feel the seed swelling and growing. I have to make the effort, make the decision, otherwise my ground is barren and nothing happens.

Sometimes the doing is simply affirming in the moment what my mind tells me is true and acting on it–regardless of my  current feelings or lack thereof. One example is: when I choose to bear testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel when I think it is appropriate, the moment I carry out that action, the Holy Ghost greatly increases my feelings of testimony, and I am strengthened.

Corrie Ten Boom learned this principle in a poignant way. She and her Dutch family were incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp for aiding the Jews. Later, Corrie became a traveling evangelist. After one meeting, where she had talked about the power of forgiveness through Christ, a former guard who had given she and her sister brutal treatment approached her. He thrust his hand out and said, “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did in that camp, but I would like  to hear it from your lips, as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?”

Corrie knew she must forgive him, but said, “Still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness i not an emotion-forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in in my shoulder, seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother,’ I cried. ‘With all my heart.’ For a long moment we grasped each others’ hand, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.” (Clippings from My Notebook, p. 92) Faith, like forgiveness, is not simply an emotion, but often requires of us a decision to act before the blessings flow.

Deciding in Favor of Faith

In many gospel settings, we make the decision, and lift our hand to action; then God supplies the power and the attendant positive feelings. “Faith if it hath not works is dead” (James 2:20). Faith truly precedes the miracle, and because of that,  faith must often be evidenced by decisions that precede wonderful  feelings. I can choose faith, I can consciously decide in favor of faith regardless of my feelings or the circumstances, and if I follow that decision with faithful actions, the feeling of faith inevitably shows up.

Being Patient with the Process

So today I sit in my pleasant living room typing on my faithful laptop, choosing positive action, choosing faith, even though I don’t feel much at the moment. I know the sweet assurance of all I’ve felt in the past will eventually show up again. Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrew 11:1). I’ve often FELT that assurance. I haven’t been feeling it the last few days. Does that mean the gospel is no longer true? Hardly. It can easily mean that my receiving set is temporarily on the blink. I’ve been fighting a bad cold, I’ve been worn out physically and emotionally, and under those conditions, my receptors may not work as well for receiving spiritual messages. Also, I take responsibility for my own decisions and actions that contribute to the problem. When I’m physically depleted I tend to spend fewer hours keeping myself physically and spiritually fit. When I skip my exercise time, I feel lethargic and sluggish. When I fudge on my scripture study time-reading a quick chapter, but not pondering, not studying it out in my mind or writing about it–I can’t expect the same results as the days when I’m hungering and thirsting for the truths in the scriptures. When I pray more methodically than from the heart because “all the energy of my heart” right now seems greatly restricted by my physical tiredness, I’m not likely to enjoy the same power of the Spirit.

However, just as the tide comes in and goes out again, just as day follows night, I will just as surely come out of this spiritual slump, as I have many times in the past. In the meantime, I will choose to act upon my lifetime of assurances, remembering all the times I have felt the Spirit, and not on my current weariness and weakness. I will remember times when the Spirit bore witness in an unmistakable way, and reaffirm that those experiences were real and are just as real today. The truths of eternity do not change just because I’m worn out and unreceptive for awhile.

Affirming Faith

Maybe the testimony of my head is worth something too. I don’t feel it today, but I affirm it. I choose it, I decide on the basis of a thousand experiences in the past to continue to believe, to continue to have faith, to continue to plant the seeds and nurture them and try the experiments on the word. Just writing this, just saying this is an action of faith and I feel better inside. New seeds are already growing and swelling. I already have evidence of what I cannot see. I don’t particularly feel like praying today, but maybe I can muster the discipline to follow Brigham Young’s advice. He said something like if you do not feel like praying, get on your knees and pray until the spirit of prayer comes back. No tears of joy filled my eyes when I read the scriptures this morning, but I absolutely believe that as I choose to continue to read I will have that experience again. Who knows, it may be tomorrow!