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Sheri Dew: Why Wrestling with Tough Church Questions Is a Good Thing

Several years ago, a marvelous young woman who had just graduated with honors from BYU called me, distraught. Through sobs, she blurted, “Sister Dew, I’m not sure I believe the Church is true, and I’m scared. What if my family isn’t going to be together forever? What if what I’ve been taught my whole life isn’t true?”

I listened to her attempt to explain her distress and finally asked, “Do you want to have a testimony?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Are you willing to work for it?”

Again she answered, “Yes.”

And was she ever!

She and I began to meet for gospel study sessions. I told her, “Bring your scriptures, Preach My Gospel, and every question you have. Questions are good. Let’s see what the Lord will teach us together.”

Little by little, she began to realize that just because she had questions didn’t mean she didn’t have a testimony.

Her testimony slowly began to grow, our study sessions tapered off, and a couple of years passed. One Sunday evening she called to say: “I want you to be one of the first to know that I am holding in my hand a temple recommend. Will you come when I receive my endowment?” She added her thanks for the time we’d spent together and then said, “Do you know what you said that helped me the most? You told me to bring every question I had because questions are good. That simple statement allowed me to see myself as a seeker rather than as a doubter.”

Resolving Conflict with Questions

Questions are key to resolving conflict, to finding out what is really going on, to understanding the hearts and minds of others and engaging them in spirited discussion, to seeking answers through
the Spirit, and to simply making fundamentally good decisions.

We all have questions, and we have them constantly. As human beings engaged in the mortal experience, we all encounter things that scare us, worry us, confuse us, hurt us, discourage us, puzzle us, and potentially threaten our faith and our progression. 

Some of our questions are doctrinal, other are procedural or historical, and some are intensely personal. But we all have them. Here are just some of the questions I’ve heard posed during the last few years. See if any of them strike a chord:

- Why do I struggle to believe when no one else in my family does?
- Should I go back to work and pursue a career?
- Why can’t we have a baby?
- Whom should I marry?
- Why have all of my friends married but I can’t find anyone for me?
- Should I serve a mission?
- Is there hope for me, after what I’ve done?
- I came home early from my mission and now can’t get over the feeling that I failed. What do I do now?
- Why did my husband die so young?
- Did the Prophet Joseph Smith really have more than one wife?
- Why did our child die when a priesthood blessing promised she would live?
- Why are the stipulations regarding baptism different for the children of gay parents than for the children of others who aren’t actively participating in the Church?
- Is it better to live life alone than to marry out of the faith? 

May I answer these questions, and any questions you may have, by posing a different question: Are you willing to engage in the wrestle? In an ongoing spiritual wrestle?

If we want to grow spiritually, the Lord expects us to ask questions and seek answers over time.
It takes a wrestle. 

Wrestling for Answers 

The requirement to wrestle spiritually is not unique to our day. Enos described the “wrestle which [he] had before God, before [he] received a remission of [his] sins” (Enos 1:2; emphasis added). Paul taught the Ephesians that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” and then he counseled them to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:12; emphasis added;
see also v. 13).

Champion wrestlers insist, however, that it isn’t necessarily the strongest wrestler or the one with the biggest muscle mass who wins. Winning wrestlers learn to leverage their strength to subdue, overpower, and defeat their opponents. 

Spiritual wrestling leverages the strength of true doctrine to overpower our weaknesses, our wavering faith, and our lack of knowledge. Brigham Young articulated the nature of this reality when he declared that “the men and women, who desire to obtain seats in the celestial kingdom,
will find that they must battle every day.”

When we have unresolved questions, our challenge does not lie in what we think we know. It lies in what we don’t YET know. 

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it this way: “We should not assume . . . that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.” The Lord has promised to open the “eyes of our understandings” and to “reveal all mysteries” (D&C 76:19, 7). But He isn’t likely to do either of these unless we seek to know. He will not force us to progress.

No wonder the Lord wants us to ask every probing question we can muster. He wants us to exercise our agency to seek and learn, because in doing so we signal to the Lord what we truly care about. Some answers and insights come from prophets, seers, and revelators as well as other faithful and earnest seekers of light and truth. But spiritual work is just that—work. The answers don’t always come quickly. Revelation tends to come line upon line, and sometimes syllable upon syllable.

Studying It Out

Some time ago, I was invited to deliver the keynote address at the BYU Women’s Conference. The theme of that conference was the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I felt overwhelmed by the assignment. I knew I did not understand grace well enough to teach it in a way that the Spirit
could endorse the message.

So I went to work. I fasted and prayed, pored over the scriptures, went to the temple, and pleaded for spiritual enlightenment. I was essentially asking for the grace, or power, of the Lord to help me
understand the grace of the Lord. . . . Little by little, the Spirit began to not only clarify points of doctrine but bring to my mind experiences I’d had throughout my life that were clearly manifestations of grace—though I had not always realized it at the time. In the grace of the Lord, I saw more clearly than I ever had how frequently He had been lifting and carrying and healing me.

Ultimately, the wrestling involved in creating that talk blessed me more, I’m sure, than anyone who heard that message. When we are willing to wrestle spiritually, we’re in a better position to help others— but we are always the ones who benefit the most. 

I don’t have the answers to every question I’ve asked or pondered. There are plenty of questions and issues I have not resolved. But as I’ve been willing to wrestle, sometimes for years at a time, the Lord has taught me. I’ve received enough enlightenment enough times to know that there is always more to learn, always greater light and knowledge available. When we are willing to wrestle spiritually for knowledge and revelation, the Spirit will enlighten us, guide us to truth, and bless us with peace
of heart and mind.

The Lord needs men and women who know how to get answers. Men and women who aren’t easily deceived and whose testimonies aren’t shaken by someone with carefully crafted talking points. Men and women whose faith isn’t threatened when they don’t have all the answers and can’t always effectively respond to alternate points of view. Men and women who have had witness after witness that Jesus is the Christ and that His gospel has been restored—so that when circumstances confuse
or discourage them, they turn toward the Savior rather than away from Him. And men and women who are secure enough in their own testimonies that they can help others who are struggling to find
their way. He needs men and women who are willing to engage in the wrestle.

Lead photo from Getty Images

Worth the WrestleAs covenant sons and daughters, we are required to have faith, live by faith, ask in faith, and overcome by faith. Yet we all have challenges and questions that we struggle to resolve. Learn more about the importance of wrestling spiritually for answers in Sheri Dew’s new book, Worth the Wrestle. Now available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.