I think of unity with yourself and unity with God as pre-requisites for finding unity with others, but they will never be complete without the third. You will need other people to see yourself clearly and to help you get closer to God.
Seeking unity with other people will challenge you. You might feel insulted and dismissed at times, and if you haven’t made a start at seeing your whole self—acknowledging your faults while also looking forward to your incredible potential—you can very easily lose yourself. Our longing for love and belonging can cause us to accept another’s view instead of our own simply for the sake of having a view.
If you do not have a relationship with God—a comfort with and ability to get your own revelations and answers from Him—you will accept another’s without any clarification or confirmation. Doing this will result in a relationship that replaces God, and other people will block your view of Him.
With all the difficulties that come from seeking unity with others and having challenging conversations, there are tremendous benefits. Those closest to us sometimes see us more clearly than we see ourselves, questions we never thought to ask will bring us the answers we always wanted, and to love others is godly.
When my husband first told me of his faith crisis, I was mad at him, then mad at myself, then mad at God, then mad at him again, and the cycle continued. I thought he didn’t actually want answers because he wasn’t listening to mine. His doubts weren’t any different from questions I’d had before and if I found answers, why couldn’t he? Then I thought I wasn’t explaining it right; I wasn’t smart enough or good enough at answering his questions. I doubted my own answers. Then nothing made sense, and if God had given me experiences where I could definitively say, “That was the Spirit,” why wasn’t my husband given those same types of experiences? He has always been in many ways a better “Mormon” than I have ever been, so he deserved to have spiritual experiences just as much if not more than I did. Maybe he was right, and it was all in my head. A psychological interpretation according to the worldview that was taught to me from my youth of things that were otherwise inexplicable or too hard for my brain to process.
I had to take a step back. I needed to think through everything again, for myself, in as honest a way as possible. This meant acknowledging where I was unsure but also where I was indeed certain. It meant taking things back to God and asking for clarifications and confirmations. It meant combing through the past and thinking of what it all meant for the present, and what I wanted for the future.
In some ways, I had to do this for myself, but I was not alone, because my husband and I did this together.
We largely credit the book In Faith and In Doubt by Dale McGowan for helping us through this process. In this book, McGowan outlines the wide spectrum of believers and non-believers and encourages conversations between couples to learn what your partner actually believes instead of relying on stereotypes or official doctrine. He cites studies and surveys but also provides some questions for you to learn more about your partner and yourself.
There is a quiz in the book to help you see how dogmatic you are—religious and non-religious people are capable of dogmatism, which is essentially the belief that you are right and leaving no room for the possibility of contrary evidence. I’m actually more dogmatic than I thought I was, but only on specific statements and I give a lot of room for others to see things differently. I will still think I’m right, but I acknowledge the validity of their view and give them space to find their own way. I would never force my belief on someone else and I would never belittle anyone, as much as I may try to educate and continue in my own way.
My husband specifically remembers the values quiz, which helped us see that while our beliefs are different our values are aligned. He also remembers a story of a Mormon couple in a similar situation that did not turn out well. Their descriptions made him think, “Christen is nothing like this,” and gave him hope that our ending could be different.
I didn’t particularly agree with or like the author’s descriptions of religion, to me they are too cultural in nature, but they did help my husband. Ultimately, it helped both of us move on from fighting over who had the better definition of “Mormonism” and instead try to discover what the other person actually believed. He discovered that he was making several assumptions about what I believed based on his understanding of my religion but stopped trying to define my religion for me. I learned to listen for what he was actually looking for and stopped trying to get him to see things my way. Together, we realized we have a lot of fundamentals in common.
At one point, I prayed and begged Heavenly Father to send a spiritual experience to my husband that he would not be able to deny was the Spirit and could then find a reason to have faith again. I reasoned that because my husband had always done everything that was asked of him and been obedient, he deserved and needed such an experience. In response, the Lord helped me see that we often get things tangled in our minds and in praying about one thing we are in fact praying about several. In other words, we want to know if A is true, but we erroneously assume that A and B are inseparably connected, so even though we are only talking about A, we are inadvertently asking about B as well.
Sometimes this doesn’t cause a problem. Even if B is wrong, the Lord can still confirm the truth of A in order to help us move forward and then correct us later. There are other times, however, when B is so wrong that to even indirectly confirm it would cause us to go down the wrong path. Therefore, God cannot testify of the truth of A because it is too tangled with a falsehood that must be corrected first.
To find truth and move forward, we must untangle our assumptions. Go through and think about one thing at a time and build the connections thoughtfully instead of inadvertently.
I realized that I could not understand the full extent of what my husband was praying and thinking about because I also had my own tangled up assumptions to work through. Working through it together, being sure to listen as the other described their faith goals and beliefs, helped us both realize what assumptions we were making. It’s nearly impossible to see what you’re overlooking by yourself. You need someone else with a fresh perspective to help you.
There are times when it is exhausting to have every little thing turn into a discussion. For example, how and why do we have family prayer? For many in my religion this is a given, too obvious to even warrant thinking about. But I had to think through why I wanted to have family prayers and what benefits I was hoping to gain. We listened to each other as we spoke of our concerns about having or not having family prayer. Together, we had to design a family prayer program where we both felt represented, concerns were met, and maximum benefits achieved. Did we put more thought into our family prayers than I otherwise would have? Yes. Do I get more benefits from family prayer than I ever have before? Absolutely. Our family prayers are fabulous, and I love them.
In the end, my husband’s faith crisis challenged my faith but did not diminish it. All the difficult conversations strengthened my faith. Instead of making assumptions, I learned to look from multiple angles and thus have a clearer and more developed view of the whole.