(free sheet music download included)

If we can agree on one thing in the year 2020, it is that no one likes to live in uncertainty. We want to feel that we are in control of our lives and our futures, but natural disasters, political upheaval, and a pandemic have left us feeling helpless to some degree.  However, uncertainty plays an important role in our mortal journey, for it often turns us to the Lord and motivates us to ask important questions. Spiritual uncertainty, while unsettling, can lead us to serious spiritual growth.

When the LDS Church invited members to submit new hymns to be considered for inclusion in a future music collection, I was eager to try my hand at hymn writing. One afternoon, I sat at the piano praying for guidance, asking the Lord to direct me to a timely topic on which to write a song. Almost instantly the phrase “when I question, when I wonder” came into my mind. Though the words surprised me at first, upon further consideration I could feel their relevance.

We live in a day of spiritual questioning—and questions are important. As we transition from childhood to adulthood, our testimony and our understanding of gospel principles need to grow with us, and asking the right kinds of questions—within a framework of faith—can facilitate that growth.

Amidst the religious excitement and confusion of his day, the prophet Joseph Smith turned to the God given method for receiving answers: search the scriptures (“I was one day reading the epistle of James”), ponder (“I reflected upon it again and again”), and pray (“I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God”). (JS History)

In writing the following hymn, I tried to capture the feel of Joseph’s day, knowing that we’re experiencing similar confusion in our time, with persuasive voices crying “lo here, lo there.” This hymn encourages keeping our focus on the Savior, looking to pure sources of information in our search, and intentionally creating a space for stillness so we can perceive the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.

“When I question, when I wonder,
when uncertainty creeps in,
when my doubts increase in number
and I’m troubled from within,
Let me not be disillusioned
by the precepts taught of man.
Let my focus be the Savior
and the beauty of His plan.”

In a powerful speech at Brigham Young University, Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge shared the following wisdom for anyone asking spiritual questions: “There are primary questions and there are secondary questions. Answer the primary questions first. Not all questions are equal and not all truths are equal. The primary questions are the most important…There are only a few primary questions. I will mention four of them.

1. Is there a God who is our Father?

2. Is Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the world?

3. Was Joseph Smith a prophet?

4. Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the kingdom of God on the earth?

By contrast, the secondary questions are unending. They include questions about Church history, polygamy, people of African descent and the priesthood, women and the priesthood, how the Book of Mormon was translated, the Pearl of Great Price, DNA and the Book of Mormon, gay marriage, the different accounts of the First Vision, and on and on.

If you answer the primary questions, the secondary questions get answered too, or they pale in significance and you can deal with things you understand and things you don’t and things you agree with and things you don’t without jumping ship altogether…Answers to the primary questions do not come by answering the secondary questions.” (emphasis added) (1)

“When great swells of urgent voices
cry, “Lo here!” and cry, “Lo there!”,
when the vast array of choices
leads to genuine despair,
Let no contest of opinions
sway me from the path of Christ.
Let me look to purest sources,
searching daily in the light.”

There is no shame in asking sincere questions about the gospel or the church, but if we’re serious about finding answers, we must be willing to ask in the right way. Cynicism never opens the windows of heaven.

Sister Sheri L. Dew does a masterful job of explaining how to safely ask important spiritual questions: “Questions are good. Questions lead to answers, as demonstrated by the Prophet Joseph Smith and countless others. The crucial issue is not about asking questions, it is the spirit in which questions are asked. A question posed against a backdrop of doubt and criticism—i.e., “I don’t understand thus and such, so the Church must not be true”—can be debilitating, as it negates faith and leaves a person unable to be guided by the Spirit to learn. On the other hand, the same question asked in an environment of faith—“I don’t understand thus and such, and I wonder what the Lord will teach me about that question”—demonstrates faith in the Lord and the hope that at some point an answer will be made clear. Questions asked in an environment of faith unlock the power of God to answer them.” (2) (emphasis added) This kind of questioning is, as the prophet Mormon described, “[searching] diligently in the light of Christ” (Moroni 7:19)

“When the clamor and confusion
press my thoughts, disturb my peace,
when dissenters in profusion
all my private fears increase,
Let me carve a space for stillness,
far from every worldly noise.
Let me not discount the whispers
of the Spirit’s gentle voice.”

Nearly two decades ago I had a private experience which taught me the importance of inward stillness in receiving answers to spiritual questions. As a gospel doctrine instructor in my ward, I was putting the finishing touches on the next day’s lesson. At least, I was trying to finish. My mind was stuck on a certain passage of scripture from the lesson material. It wasn’t the first time I had tripped over these particular New Testament verses, puzzled and even troubled about their meaning, but I’d always managed to push my concerns aside, figuring someday I would take the time to seriously dig for answers. Apparently, someday had come.

I’ve always felt like I was born with a believing heart. Since childhood I have been irresistibly drawn to things of a spiritual nature–including the scriptures. The study of God’s word has generally been a sweet experience, but on this day as I read over the verses in my Bible, an unfamiliar sensation began to steal over me: uncertainty was creeping in. I wasn’t questioning the truthfulness of the entire book simply because a few sentences didn’t sit well, but I definitely needed some answers, and couldn’t brush aside my questions anymore.

I clearly remember bowing my head as I sat at my desk, knowing that I needed wisdom from heaven to assist my understanding. It was a rare hour when I was all alone in the house–there was absolute silence. After offering a teary, heartfelt prayer, expressing my misgivings over that particular scriptural passage, I kept my head bowed and waited a long time in the stillness. To this day, I am certain that had I not been completely alone in a quiet house I would have missed the faint one-word answer that slipped into my thoughts. Just one simple word, but oh, what a difference it made to my understanding.  

I choose not to share what my question was, nor the word with which the Lord responded, because there is no way for me to convey to anyone the amount of information which was communicated to me through the Spirit with that single word. What I do wish to convey is that the hardest part of the questioning process may be carving a space for stillness in our hectic lives so we will not miss the delicate whisperings of the Still, Small Voice in answer to our most pressing questions.

When we question, when we wonder, we can follow the pattern used by Joseph Smith as we keep our focus on the Savior, look to pure sources, and intentionally create a space for stillness so we can perceive the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. As we humbly persist, we will gradually receive the answers God is willing to grant.

I testify that we can receive a sure witness from the Holy Spirit that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, even before we receive the answers to all of our spiritual questions.  I wholeheartedly concur with the words of Brother Robert L. Millet, “We may not have all the answers, but we can be sure in our personal witness; we may not have a ready reply for every challenge, but we need not be troubled or discouraged or dislodged from the rock of our Redeemer.” (3)

Free sheet music download:

When I Question, When I Wonder\
by Lynne Perry Christofferson

Vocals by Tammy Simister Robinson,
Tanya Barkdull, Caleb Jardine, Mark Child

“When I question, when I wonder,
when uncertainty creeps in,
when my doubts increase in number
and I’m troubled from within,
Let me not be disillusioned
by the precepts taught of man.
Let my focus be the Savior
and the beauty of His plan.

When great swells of urgent voices
cry, “Lo here!” and cry, “Lo there!”,
when the vast array of choices
leads to genuine despair,
Let no contest of opinions
sway me from the path of Christ.
searching daily in the light.

When the clamor and confusion
press my thoughts, disturb my peace,
when dissenters in profusion
all my private fears increase,
Let me carve a space for stillness,
far from every worldly noise.
Let me not discount the whispers
of the Spirit’s gentle voice.”

Recommended additional material:

Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, entire speech “Stand Forever,” BYU speeches, January 22, 2019.

https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/lawrence-e-corbridge/stand-for-ever/

Sheri L. Dew’s book, “Worth the Wrestle,” 2017, Deseret Book Company.

Elder Neil L. Andersen’s address, “You Know Enough”, October 2008 General Conference.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/10/you-know-enough?lang=eng

Notes:

  1. Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, January 22, 2019, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/lawrence-e-corbridge/stand-for-ever/
  2. Sheri Dew, Women and the Priesthood, p.8, 2013, Used by permission of Deseret Book Company.
  3. Robert L. Millet, Holding Fast, p. xiii-xiv, 2008, Deseret Book Company.