Thomas Wirthlin McConkie: How Meditation And Being Still Helps Us Know God
Despite being born into a family with strong Latter-day Saint roots, Thomas McConkie stopped attending church at the age of 13. However, a spiritual journey, which spanned nearly two decades and included becoming proficient in Buddhist meditation, brought him back to an unlikely destination: The faith of his youth.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
Find Thomas's book, "Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis" on Amazon here.
Follow our new "All In" Instagram account by clicking here.
Watch Thomas's interview with Terryl Givens here.
Listen to Thomas's Mindfulness+ podcast here.
3:08- Leaving the Church at 13
4:51- Discovering Meditation
5:46- Redemption in Stillness
12:26- Power to Heal a Generation
16:49- The Meaning of Meditation
19:34- Stillness Among Saints
25:34- Changing a Culture
28:15- Home-centered Church's Opportunity
31:49- Ministering and Meditation
33:05- Creating a Community
35:56- Message to a Teenager Struggling With Faith
37:50- If You Love Someone Struggling With Faith
39:29- A Grandfather's Love
42:36- What Does It Mean To Be All In The Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones: 24 hours later, and I'm still not over how much I love the conversation you're about to hear. I hope you love it as much as I did. If you do or if you've enjoyed any of our recent episodes, please do me a huge favor and leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts. One little rating or review can help us so much and I read every review personally, and they make my day so thank you so much. And now we'll get on to this week's episode.
Thomas McConkie is the grandson of Joseph B. Wirthlin and the great nephew of Bruce R. McConkie, two names you might recognize, and yet at the age of 13, he stopped attending church. Ultimately, a 20-year spiritual journey to China and back led him to return to the faith of his youth. What healed what had previously been a painful space in his life and called him home? Meditation and stillness.
Thomas Wirthlin McConkie is the author of "Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis" and the founder of Lower Lights School of Wisdom. He has been practicing mindfulness and other meditative techniques for 20 years and studying their effects on human potential. He and his wife, Gloria, live in Salt Lake City.
This is "All In," an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, "What does it really mean to be 'all in' the gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones, and I'm so grateful to have Thomas McConkie with me today. Thomas, welcome.
Thomas McConkie: Thank you. Good to be here, Morgan.
MJ: Well, I have been so looking forward to this conversation. And I would love just as we start to kind of introduce people to you and to your story. So if there are people listening that are completely new to you, don't know anything about you, how would you briefly sum up a little bit about your faith journey?
TM: How brief? I can be so brief or just...
MJ: Give us some some detail.
TM: I'm the guy who accidentally became proficient in meditation and realized that it is a spiritual practice that could potentially help unlock an entire generation's faith so that's where I'm coming from. I can tell you the details of how that happened. But I gained so much from a meditation practice. I fell into it accidentally when I was a teenager. And over 20 years later, it's really clear to me with the, let's say, creative challenges we're seeing in the life of faith in the upcoming generations, my sense is that a more meditative contemplative lifestyle will potentially play a big and important role in deepening our faith as a generation, a new generation of Latter-day Saints. So I didn't say anything about me there. But that's the like the ya know headline.
MJ: And I think that's perfect because it sets the tone for pretty much everything that I want to talk to you about so well done.
TM: Yeah, cool.
MJ: But let's kind of talk a little bit about you and your experience from the age of 13 to 32, you were kind of out of the church. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
TM: Yeah. Where to start? So like most 13 year olds or like many, I didn't like to, like get up in the morning, early on Sunday and put on a shirt and tie and, you know, march off to church. I just didn't like it. But it wasn't like an existential crisis yet. It was just 'I don't want to go to church today.' And in my particular family culture and culture culture, I learned pretty quickly that like not going to church was like, not part of the program. And at that point, it became a battle of wills. I mean, we could spend the whole conversation on this, but I don't think we need to. You know my parents. You should get their side of it.
MJ: I do. I keep thinking about Lis during this.
TM: Yeah exactly, you know Lis. Talk to her. I mean, I have the bully pulpit right now and I yield it to my parents let them tell the story. But the long, the short of it is that I didn't want to go to church. They really wanted me to go to church. And I felt as a 13 year old boy coerced like, Well, wait a minute, should I get to choose whether I go to church or not?
MJ: Isn't agency a thing?
TM: I think it's a thing. That's what I learned in Sunday school. But at any rate, it became a battle of wills, a protracted battle of wills and before long, it was more about like, just exercising that choice. More than like, it wasn't even about church at a certain point. You know what I'm saying? But that you know, I my mom has told me that I was like, blessed with a preternatural stubbornness like I have superhuman strength and my stubbornness. I just wouldn't bend on it.
MJ: Some would call it a gift. Some would not.
TM: I say that ironically, right? Yeah, it's like all things a strength and a weakness, but I didn't go back to church after that. It just didn't feel right. But I was spiritually really hungry. I missed spiritual life and practice and community and ritual and all of it. And it was at 18 years old, that I just felt kind of like spiritually desiccated, kind of dry it out, and I gotta do something. And it so happened my freshman year in college, there was a big Buddhist Zen center, like two blocks away. And I would see the teachers like at the local fish market, and it was just like it was in the air and the neighborhood where I was, and something about it really made sense. And, you know, I think from the McConkie side of my family, I have like a kind of sense of discipline. So there's something about the discipline of like sitting still stationary on a little cushion every day for a long time that I'm like, Okay, let's see what happens here. And I was amazed at how much the practice of just being still changed me immediately, but also over the years. You know, when you hear there's a huge movement, especially in the Western world right now, around mindfulness meditation, all of the health benefits, mental health benefits, etc. I saw those benefits in the first few months of my practice. My insomnia kind of just cleared up, I had pretty serious insomnia, mood disturbance, I had a really hard time concentrating in college, all these really significant life issues for me, they started to get dramatically better within like a six month period, I was shocked. And if that was all that ever happened with meditation, if all it ever did for me was like, help me sleep better and eat better and concentrate and get good grades, that would have been a Grand Slam for me. It would have been like well worth the relatively little time I'd put in. But it turned out that it just kind of began there. That was just like the very beginning of a whole new way of being human for me and I'm, I want to let you ask me some questions because I'll just keep talking here. But where I'm going with this is that like, the more I sat still, the more I felt the presence of stillness throughout my day and throughout my life, whether I was, quote, sitting still or not, I just felt this presence of stillness. And before too long after a few years, I started to connect dots, like, wait a minute, like, be still and know that I am God. We want to live prayerfully and invite the presence of the spirit into our lives every moment of every day to allow it to guide us and inspire our actions. All of these profound teachings from our church, they just started to come alive in me and the entryway for me was through stillness, and it changed my life and you know, it took me a while to like circle back to a ward family. It took me about 20 years to be exact, but like, I felt very Mormon, I know we're not supposed to use that word anymore, but I'm working on it. I'm cycling it out of my vocabulary. But I felt very Mormon all those 20 years even though I didn't go to church, the gospel and what I'd learned as a really young kid was just like germinating in me and taking deep root and coming alive. It was a miraculous experience for me.
MJ: Yeah, I listened to a podcast interview that you did or actually watched it on YouTube with Terryl Givens, and loved it. And one of the things that you mentioned to Terryl was that religion and faith for much of your life was a painful space. Why was that and how do you think you were able to find healing from that?
TM: Great question. Well, after the age of 13, I associated all of religion, for better or for worse, with a kind of ostracization or being exiled, I felt kind of kicked out of the club because I didn't want to go to church anymore. Right? So everything about the religious experience felt like an in group. And I was on the outside of that in group that was really hard. So socially, I just felt like I didn't belong anywhere that was really painful. And it took me years to like, see back into the depths of why does religion exist? And like, what's the big deal about the restored gospel, it took me time to work through my own pain to a point where I could genuinely appreciate just the power that flows through the tradition. That took me time. Right? So that was that was the first part of the question like, you know, why the pain? The second part, like how did I kind of process the pain and what allowed me to move through that pain? A lot of it was stillness. Really, and, you know, we could get into like the fine details of like, what it means to sit still and have a contemplative or a meditation practice. But I'll just say about it that when you sit still and when you make a spiritual discipline of that every day, you figure out really quickly what you're avoiding. If you know what I'm saying, like, if any one of us just says, I'm going to sit still, and I'm not going to do anything for the next 10 minutes. And every time I have a thought, I'm going to just kind of like, let it go and come back to just the present moment of what's happening. You'll be amazed at how flooded you get with like, oh, like there's emotional pain in my heart. And I wasn't totally aware that that was there. What's that all about? And you sit long enough and you start to get really intimate with all of your wounding as a human being. And at that point, you kind of have a decision like am I going to stay and really get to know this, you know, even become friends with this pain? Or am I going to like, hop up and just stay busy the rest of my life like stay busy trying to avoid feeling what I'm actually feeling. So the practice of stillness let me get a really clear look at what was hurting so much, and by grace and with a lot help from friends and mentors, I was able to just kind of sit with it. And by sitting with it, I realized there's something even deeper than me, something deeper in me than the pain that's able to hold that pain. Because at a surface level, I felt so broken, I felt so frazzled, I felt so scattered. And yet, after sitting still for a while, I saw very clearly, "Well, if I'm so scattered and broken and wounded and sinful, how am I able to sit still," right? What is it in me that's sitting still. And that gave me a lot of insight into the atonement. It's like, oh, like this part of me that can just be in the depths of my own pain. My intuition is that this is what we mean when we say Christ sat in the depths of all of humanity's pain. And I felt healed. It doesn't happen all at once, but I felt totally healed and put back together and redeemed and I have no doubt that every one of us in this generation are capable of connecting that deeply to healing and wholeness and atonement. And I'm excited about you know, being like one of the voices in that conversation. I think there will be many.
MJ: Yeah. I love that so much. My body language for those listening, I like am getting excited, but...
TM: She's going crazy over here.
MJ: Going crazy! But I think that this is so spot on. And these are things you've written about in "Navigating a Mormon Faith Crisis," is this idea that we can find healing in a more personal form of worship. And I think this is something that we see the church moving more toward. And so I want to talk so much about so many of these things. But one thing is you touched on that this is a new generation looking for that. Why would you say Thomas that this generation is hurting in a way that needs to be healed in that way? And how can we satisfy that craving for healing via meditation?
TM: These are big questions. And I don't sense that I could even begin to answer either of these with any finality, but we can, you know, have a conversation about and hopefully it's an ongoing conversation in the culture about them. Why is this generation hurting more than other generations? Well, I think in one sense, that might be true, but I, I look at it a little bit differently. I believe, as we grow up spiritually, as we mature spiritually, we gain a greater capacity to see more of the suffering that's in ourselves and in the world.
MJ: And in others, yeah.
TM: Right. And I see you nodding like you know exactly what I mean. So as we as we grow up in the gospel, we become more attuned to even the least degree of we could say sin. Or we could say suffering, I think they're related. And as we become more clear and honest about "Oh there's sin here, I need to do something about this. I'm not living up to my privilege if I'm living with the presence of the sin in my life," as we do that more and more, and we're honest and have integrity with it, we gain the capacity to see an entire community is suffering, an entire generation is suffering. So I believe we become ministers to other people's suffering as we get more and more clear on our own. So that's an awesome topic you bring up but I just want to say a word about that. And the next part, like so, how does meditation, how does mindfulness, stillness play into that? Is that where we're going?
TM: And this is huge, I mean people, I've learned, are so unique, and there are so many different ways to heal. And there's so many different ways to grow in the gospel clearly, right? I don't know what I could say about it at the moment. It looked like you had a thought, were you gonna say something?
MJ: Well, I did, I was thinking when you're talking about, you know, recognizing the suffering of others, I've noticed that my friends and my peers seem to be much more empathetic, then maybe like my parents' generation. And it's not for a lack of trying on the part of my parents. Yeah. But it's something about our makeup. And maybe it's the result of social media. I don't know, I think there are positives and negatives with that for sure. But I do think this generation, there's a certain amount of empathy that maybe is deeper than has been previously.
TM: Yeah, I would agree with that. And I would also kind of up the ante and say, my sense of human history is that we're moving towards greater love and greater compassion all the time. I know a lot of people would challenge that. But I'd be up for the challenge. I, I sense that as a collective as humanity, as Christians, we're learning to be more empathetic and more compassionate as the gospel helps us and asked us to do. So I see that, and I believe we'll look at the next generation. And they'll look back at us and say, like, "Oh, they moved the ball forward, they definitely made improvements, and they could not see how blind they were to this particular injustice." And you know, it goes on and on. So I see that as well about your question on you know, like meditation, mindfulness, it occurs to me that if we're going to talk about how stillness, how meditation, all that stuff can help us, you know, live a life more fully in the gospel and so forth, we might want to take a minute to talk about what we mean when we say meditation.
TM: Because these words get kind of bandied around all the time, even more now than ever, right. I, as I've practiced over the years, my sense of what meditation is has become broader and broader. For example, when I was an 18 year old, I'd go to the teacher and he'd say like, "This is what meditation is, you sit in this posture and you do this with your attention, and don't move for 30 minutes or 30 days" or whatever. They'll, you know, they'll tell you how to focus. As I've kind of deepened in the practice over time. I'm really comfortable with the definition of meditation as remembrance. And that feels very much like a gospel principle to me, like when we remember what are we remembering? Well, let me just riff a little bit: We remember that we are sons and daughters, that we're children of a living God. And when we remember that the quality of our whole life in this very moment changes. And as Latter-day Saints, we all know how to do that. We remember that a lot. We remember that, "Oh yeah. Like, we are co-heirs of God's kingdom. And we are the intelligence, the very stuff out of which gods and goddesses are made." When we remember these things, it completely transforms our sense of what's possible. Meditation, we could say, is a tradition of different skillful means or techniques for helping us remember more often, more reliably. That's it. So in that sense, I just want to make it very plain because we haven't talked about meditation much in all of Christianity for about 400 years now. That's a history that we don't need to get into.
MJ: Yeah, please.
MJ: A short period of time.
TM: Yeah, I mean, like, Yeah, exactly but it's been a few centuries since this language was more in the vernacular, like people had more of a sense of meditation. I think we've grown a little bit apart from it but that's an anomaly as far as I'm concerned, if our business is restoring the fullness of the gospel then any truth will need to be eventually gathered up but also embodied and expressed through the saints. So, you know, when we talk about meditation this way, like meditation means living prayerfully and constantly remembering who we are, the power of divinity that flows through us. That is a much more native proposition to our church than like, "Oh, this guy goes to monasteries, I think is Buddhist. And I'm not into that," you know, it's, it's not about another culture. It's about claiming our birthright.
MJ: Yeah. Well, and that reminds me so Deseret Book has this book coming out about stillness. And I mentioned to you that I wanted to ask you a couple of questions relating to that. One of the things they talked about in this book, they said that when we practice stillness more fully in our lives, that the "Sabbath becomes more of a restorative retreat, temple worship a deep immersion into non-doing and prayer, a contemplative practice of quiet communion." And I love that because it kind of reminded me of in the interview with Terryl Givens you said, there's nothing within meditation that isn't natively Mormon.
MJ: And so I think that, that that kind of shows a little bit about the "synergies between doctrine and dharma," which is another phrase that they used in this book, what are your thoughts on that?
TM: Well, yeah, I mean, about the the first part of your question.
MJ: Sorry, I tend to talk in multiple questions.
TM: It's okay. No I'm like having to organize, there were like three questions there with two subsets of questions.
MJ: Listeners, I apologize. Thomas, I'm sorry.
TM: No, it's we're, we're rolling here. So one thing I'll say about the relationship, you're drawing—Meditation as a part of like life and in the church and the life of a Latter-day Saint, whether that's sacrament meeting or temple worship, etc. What that brings up for me is just a recognition that when we read in the scriptures that we can be still and know that God is God. It doesn't say be still once in a while and know that I'm God. It says "Be still." I take that to mean be still always. And here's a little bit of a distinction here. We could think of be still like, "Oh, man, be still, now I need to figure out, I'm already super busy. How am I going to find 30 minutes every day to be totally still because I have so much stuff to do?" Yes, like when we say a prayer, or if we sit in stillness, it does help to carve out like a little space. But to me, the point isn't to like sit as still as we can for as many hours as we can every day. It's to touch into the stillness. Be still and know that I'm God. And when we touch deeply into that stillness, the presence of that stillness naturally starts to permeate our entire life. So that in this moment, there's stillness. And it could be total cacophony and madness. And we feel a deep stillness at the very core of our being, and we know God is present and His love is in and through all of us. And that He watches over us and cares for us.
That's the next level, I think, yeah, it starts with formal practices of prayer and sacrament meeting and temple but to actually generalize that to every moment of our life. To me, that is what Zion looks like. I mean, can you imagine 7 billion humans on the planet that are living in full awareness that we are created by and through the Power and Light of Christ? It would completely transform our economy and our politics and our education and the way like, someone lets you in to make a left turn when it's rush hour, everything would change. And to me like, whether we call it meditation or not, I see that fullness rolling out over the earth right now. And I'm on fire about it.
MJ: On board with it.
TM: I'm on fire. You're on board. OK, maybe we'll see if we can like raise the temperature there Morgan.
MJ: I'll try to get in there. Crank up the heat! No, I actually love that you gave the example of rush hour because when you first started talking, I was thinking that's so opposite. Like being still is so contrary to everything that we're experiencing in our everyday life. But if you look at it the way that you just explained it, it's even in those moments of busyness being able to be still.
TM: Exactly it's not about adding on yet another like to-do on your list of how am I going to be a good faithful Latter-day Saint? It's just creating a very healthy spiritual habit and mental habit of noticing in every moment, in this moment—in this moment right now there is profound stillness. And there is a profound holiness and we can remember it. And we remember it just for a moment and like a perfume... the scent just fills the room. And it fills our whole day.
MJ: Super cool.
TM: It's amazing to be alive.
MJ: Another thought that I had when you were talking about that. I guess I've always thought of that scripture, "Be still and know that I am God," as like I don't want to say like a self-serving statement by God but like, be still and recognize that I am God but when you something about the way that you described it, it made me think Be still. And when you are still you will know that I am God. And you'll come to know that on a deeper level, which I think is significant.
TM: Yes. And that is exactly the kind of insight, I was talking about it earlier in my own life, just now you had a taste of stillness and an insight, and a deepening of like, "Oh!" and it opens you up to new possibilities. That's exactly how that happens. Beautiful!
MJ: Perfect. We're putting it into practice.
TM: Congratulations! As a new meditation student, you're well on your way.
MJ: Thank you. Yes, I will gladly sign up. Another question that I had in relation to this book about stillness is they asked a question and I just wanted to get your take on that. They were talking about the culture of the church, and they give some examples in this book of different things, getting a new calling, feeling overwhelmed, things like that. But it says "How is that this hyper-stimulated rushed culture influencing how we experience the quiet message of Jesus. In what ways could it be changing our experience of gospel practices?" Yeah. What are your thoughts on that, Thomas?
TM: So I tend to be a nonlinear thinker. You've probably noticed that at this point in the interview, but...
MJ: apparently I am too because I'm giving you a circle of questions.
MJ: Yeah. That's beautiful.
TM: Exactly and I'm just like picking one and going for it. Pick a line and like, don't look back, start talking. I thought of Henry T. Ford, when you asked that, because to me, that's an icon of our current worldview in the Western world of like, make a production line, stamp them out, figure out how to make even more things on your production lines, stamp them out. I really believe at this point in history, we're living in the wake of that particular dream, that dream and that value system that says, the more stuff we can make, and sell and acquire the better off we are. Like it or not, Latter-day Saints to some extent have been colonized by that one worldview, right? Where we have to be productive, and we have to do more, and we have to accomplish more. Nothing wrong with doing more and accomplishing more. But if that doing more and accomplishing more comes at the expense of feeling whole in this moment, and losing touch with stillness, and losing, forgetting, rather than remembering that God is in and through it all and blesses, every step we take on this planet, then we trade our spiritual growth and our eternal dominion for a car, or a widget. And that, I think, is a problem. So what what I think of when you read that quote from the book is that we've been kind of drawn into a particularly frenetic rhythm of human life in this particular moment in history. And I've found it to be incredibly valuable to challenge that cultural value system to like, you know, stand up against the tyranny of constant dizziness and stimulation and tune into a different rhythm which maybe we could call the soul's rhythm. The soul as it grows and expands and becomes divine, it has a totally different movement to it. Like you don't get soul growth from like speeding through an article on your smartphone and just getting like, you know, the top tidbits of like, "Oh, how did the democrats do in the debate last night? Oh yeah, Kamala Harris...they're coming after her now," like that's not where we get soul growth. It's when, well and maybe we get some soul growth there but what I'm saying is, it requires deliberation. It requires real diligence to say like "No, I'm going to just hold this space open and protect it to allow something like deeper than the natural man and all his or her impulses to like really well up from the depths of my being and when we like create a garden like that, in our lives, we see it flourish. We see it flower and it transforms us.
TM: That's what I thought of.
MJ: No, I think it's so good. And it reminded me. Well, one thing as I was reading some of the things that you've written and watching this video with Terrell, one thing that that struck me was, I think this is something that we're kind of catching onto with the home-centered church and cutting church back an hour. How do you think that we might be able to find more stillness in that more personal form of worship and why is that important to our spiritual growth?
TM: Yeah, that's an awesome question. I agree, you know, I have grown up, whether I was like active at the time or not my whole life I've heard prophets saying that like "This is an elect generation, the faith of this generation will be great," I think implied in that are also stated as that the challenges to faith will be equally great.
TM: When you talk about moving to the 2-hour schedule, more of a home-centered church, I see the possibility of a whole generation standing on its feet. In other words, like really relying on the power and strength and stability of our own faith to carry us.
TM: Yeah, rather than like, always looking for marching orders from headquarters, no question that still needs to happen. And no question, there was a developmental period where like that needed to be true for all of us. But I think this shift to two hours could be an indicator that like we're ready to take more responsibility for our spiritual lives. And that like, we're not going to find stillness because like our bishop held us by the hand and like took us right there, like right up to the still waters to drink. We have to choose it for ourselves. So I'm agreeing with you that I see a correlation there too. And I also see more and more supports for this kind of faith in our communities. Meaning that if you're listening right now, and you're present to this quality of stillness, like yes, something is stirring in me and it just tastes good and I want to look into it more, you can hardly shake a stick at all the books and CDs and meditation centers and like high-quality teachers in your own ward family, actually, who can support us all on this path. I mean, I'm really encouraged by that, if you know what I mean.
MJ: Yeah. And you mentioned ministering earlier, which I think also plays in interestingly enough into this conversation.
TM: Big time because like, again, getting back to this paradigm of we got to do more and get out to see more people, perhaps as ministers, not that we shouldn't do that, of course, it's not an either or, we don't have to scrap any of the good things that have got us here. But I've found that just in my own life, in my own practice that a really profound kind of ministering happens when we're not so focused on doing ministering. But we realize that, like at a deeper level, what we're actually offering to somebody when we minister to them is the quality of our own being, and our presence, and if we're very present with someone else, and if we are in a place of remembrance of God's incredible glory, when we're with somebody else, good things are going to happen. So absolutely as we make more space for stillness, presence, remembrance in our lives, the quality of our ministering will skyrocket within the church outside of the church. I believe I'm already seeing that.
MJ: For sure. I agree completely. And you, Thomas, have tried, you mentioned resources available. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, you've created this group Lower Lights, which is a space for people regardless of where they're at in their faith to come and join together in stillness. What has that community come to mean to you?
TM: A lot. It means a lot to me that in this community, I mean, I live and I'm based in Salt Lake City and I'm uncomfortable with the degree of religious division that exists I mean, it's like there's a bright line between members, non-members and now even like active members, inactive members, teetering members like, you know, like there's so much division and at Lower Lights, I have been so encouraged to see people across the spectrum, people in our faith tradition, people not. People like, you know, like very devout, and believing and others just like "I don't know anymore. I don't know if this church is going to be a part of my future," but to gather that way, and to connect to something deeper than our beliefs. It just feels like a really significant community effort to me and I always feel the spirit at those gatherings. I'm always overcome by people's unlimited capacity to grow. And we don't know how people are going to grow or what the growth looks like, what growth is ordained for each of God's children, but I've found that by just being still and being gentle, if we're willing to let that growth happen, not unlike, you know, being very still in a forest so that we're not scaring off the wildlife. If we're that still and that gentle, we'll catch a glimpse of a spotted deer right up there on the hill. And when we're really gentle with each other in this space, and community, I see people growing in ways that I could have never predicted, but it kind of takes my breath away. So I love what we're seeing. And I, you know, I think we'll see more of it at Lower Lights over the years.
MJ: Yeah. Well, I can't help but think as we've talked, that it's interesting to watch how God works in our lives. And I'm sure that this is not like a new thought for you, but just hearing your story, and then hearing how it's allowing you to help other people. It just is fascinating to me how God can take, you know, 20 years of searching and turn it into something that is helping people regardless of whether they're in the church or out of the church or whatever. And so, I think it's inspiring to see how God is leading and using you. One question that I wanted to kind of address before we wrap up, I guess there are two questions. So I'm actually going to separate them this time. You're welcome in advance. But first, what would be your message to those listening? Maybe specifically, like a young teenage boy, who is struggling with their faith? What would what would you say to someone in that situation?
TM: So many things I could say. God is unbelievably, and unfathomably good. So whatever your struggles, whatever your confusion and your doubts, like, even and especially that confusion and your doubts, God loves those very doubts and that confusion to the very depths of you. So there's no experience you can have on this planet. There's no experience you can have in this human life that God does not completely redeem through His love for you. So, as we wander, and we all wander, as we wander to just know that, like, right at the core of our being there is this divine crystal planted right into our breast. And it's like this homing beacon. It's like the compass of a needle that always knows where north is, no matter like how dark, how turned upside down, how confused, that wherever you are, you can actually be still and that compass needle, it will find north and you can trust yourself and you can trust your feet and my experience is that God calls us all home, you know?
MJ: Another kind of part two of that question. It was interesting to me knowing your parents to hear you talk about, you know, being a young boy and not wanting to go to church. And I think that that's something that a lot of parents deal with. And they want to do it right. They want to like answer in the right way. They don't want to force their kids to go to church. But what would your message be to the loved ones of those who may be struggling with their faith?
TM: Yeah, that's a...And, you know, I haven't raised a stubborn like 13 year old version of myself yet. So, you know.
MJ: Karma. It's gonna come back around Thomas.
TM: Give it to me, God, give it to me. I'll accept this challenge. I'll come back to a brief story that people who know me have heard me tell in different ways, but it's related to what you said about my like, 20 year kind of walkabout, just like trying to heal and find myself and find God again. And that, you know, somehow has proven to be kind of useful for people in the community as I can like, show them the ropes a little bit, at least what I saw out there in the wilderness.
For parents who are working with a child who's struggling and seems lost, and they're really concerned. I mean, of course, you need to do what you can to help them not make mistakes that would cause irrevocable damage. Right. But in terms of like, let me speak to like addressing the life of faith in your child and the role of the gospel. One of the most life-changing moments I've ever experienced came when I had been in China for a little while. And my hair was close to down to my shoulders, actually I'm currently wearing a similar do. My hair looked...it was long and shaggy and hippie and I've been out of the church about eight years, and my Granddad Wirthlin, who was in Quorum at the time, he just called me down to his office one day to chat, like real friendly-like, and I was excited because I always had an amazing relationship with him and was like, "Cool granddad wants to hang out with me in the office, boom, I'm there." And, you know, I sat down across his desk that day, and he looked at me. And this is, I'm 21, the mission years have passed. I look like a total hippie, I'm half Buddhist now. He just looked at me and just said, "I know you're going to serve a mission." And in my mind, I just thought, like, "What does that...I mean that's gone, that window closed."
And the way I make sense of that moment, now many years later, is that he wasn't looking at me anxiously as a really concerned parent would look at me and say, "Oh 21, I think the cut off is 25, you can still get to the MTC." He wasn't looking at me in human years. It felt like he was looking at me across the aeons. It's hard to get through this, so just have to bear with me. I believe in that moment that was so life changing. He was looking at me much the way God looks at His children. Because when you can only see like a couple of years of your kid's life, it's like you're going to freak out. And you have good reason to freak out if you have a kid like me at 13 years old, but all of a sudden, if you look at that same child across 10,000 years, and you imagine, like how luminous that being is going to be in 10,000 years, when you play the long game with human beings, it's like, "Oh, their path is a little different. But wow, I can just feel the holiness in this person," and my granddad gave me that gift. He gave me the gift of sitting across from me as a family member, and not being so anxious about like, you know, the next couple weeks, and he gave me a glimpse into something much bigger and I believe God wants us all to see each other that way. I think C.S. Lewis said something...everybody quotes C.S. Lewis in this Church. Here I go, C.S. Lewis! But something to the effect of if we could see people through these eyes, if we could see people the way they'll be 10,000 years from now, we would have a strong urge to worship them. It's that sense of like, here we are, you know, recording a conversation, and you and I, we're actually that divine, and we're that holy. And if we remember that, back to remembrance, if we remember that we treat each other very differently. And I believe our children will pick up on that awesome love, that divine love that we're extending to them. And it will bless and change the lives as it did for me. I know that.
MJ: Thank you so much. Thank you for sharing that experience. In conclusion, I just have one last question for you. And you know what's coming? What does it mean to you, Thomas, to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
TM: Hashtag "All In." I did know that was coming. I needsome tissue, I'll get through this. So all in...I love the moment in the New Testament, when there's kind of a squabble over theology. And they asked Christ like, you know, tell us the great commandments like what's, can you boil it all down for us? And he says, love God, love your neighbor. So, my sense is that being all in is being willing to let Christ into our lives so deeply that everything in us that isn't godly love burns away. And that is a moment-to-moment, day-to-day spiritual exercise of "Can I let the parts of me that aren't pure love be smelted out just by the heat and the intense flames of the Spirit?" And I've found that just having an intention to try to live that way is a recipe for really profound happiness.
MJ: Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing so many things. I'm like, I can't wait to edit this episode because I get to listen to it over and over again. So thank you very much.
TM: Thank you. It was a pleasure to be with you, Morgan.
MJ: A huge thank you to Thomas McConkie for sharing his insights on today's episode, you can find his book, "Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis," on Amazon and find out more about Lower Lights by visiting www.lowerlightswisdom.org. We'll be back next week with another episode on the topic of meditation, featuring two of the authors of the upcoming Deseret book release, "The Power of Stillness." We'll look forward to being with you then.