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“As aspiring Christians but still imperfect Saints, we may not always understand the struggles of others or know how to help. But we can always love them, creating safe spaces where others—and often we ourselves—can struggle with the hard sayings in life.”
—Eric D. Huntsman
Written by Rico Maranto, author of Enduring a Crisis of Faith.
We should seek mentors through all the stages of faith. Mentors should be those who are at least one stage ahead of us. They should be able to explain the stages of faith and help us gain insight into what is happening at our current stage and help us see what is to happen next.
If you have personally experienced a crisis of faith, you may be able to recognize when others are in crises. Even if you have not experienced a crisis yourself, you may be gifted with the ability to sense it in others. You may sense it when they walk into the chapel or ask questions in Sunday School.
Listen, love, and empathize without judgement. In the January 2011 Ensign, there is an article by Ann E. Tanner titled “Carrying Others to the Pool of Bethesda.” In it, she explains, “Often, what is needed most is for us to be prayerful and to listen without giving advice or platitudes. People who are suffering don’t need our explanation for their condition. Our well-meaning attempts to put the situation in perspective (our perspective) can unintentionally come across as demeaning or insensitive.”
Meet people where they are, as they are, and accept them for who they are. They may be steeped in sin. If so, love them and testify of the cleansing power of Christ’s atonement and that the angels rejoice more over one soul that repents more than ninety-nine who require no repentance (see Luke 15:7).
They may be bound by the chains of addiction. If so, love them and promise them that Christ can free them. They may be confused by events in Church history and angry at the Church for concealing those things, or perhaps they disagree with certain doctrines. If so, love them and empathize by expressing that you understand how those things can be confusing and upsetting, and offer to help them seek answers for their concerns when they are ready.
They may be discouraged and filled with shame and self-loathing. If so, love them and remind them of their infinite worth to their Heavenly Father, for “God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Remind them that even if they were the only person to ever live on this earth, their heavenly parents still would have sent their Son to die for them.
Offer to walk with them on this journey, to be there for them, to listen, and to support them. You don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to provide a safe space so they can explore their questions. Elder M. Russell Ballard said:
I am concerned when I hear of sincere people asking honest questions about our history, doctrine, or practices and then being treated as though they were faithless. This is not the Lord’s way. As Peter said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man [or woman] that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
We need to do better in responding to honest questions. Although we may not be able to answer every question about the cosmos or about our history, doctrine, and practices, we can provide many answers to those who are sincere. When we don’t know the answer, we can search answers together—a shared search that may bring us closer to each other and closer to God.
Share what you have learned about crises of faith when you teach, bear your testimony, or comment in classes. If you have personally endured the dark night, be vulnerable and share your experience and what you learned. As those who are in the depths of a crisis sense that you understand, they will trust that you may be able to help them and will come to you.
As they share, demonstrate that you are listening. Frequently echo what they are saying in your own words so they know you hear and understand them. State what you perceive they may be feeling so they know you empathize with them. You can say something like, “That must have been painful for you,” or, “I can see how that would be confusing.” Resist the impulse to share similar experiences from your life as a way to empathize with them. Sharing your stories makes the conversation about you. The best mentors focus the conversation on the person they are mentoring. Instead of sharing your stories, encourage the other person to continue to share, then share your own experiences when they are ready to listen. Teach them what you have learned about the stages of faith and the crises that help us transition to the next stage of our spiritual development.
Your objective as a mentor is to help them transition to the next stage, not to help them feel content in their current stage. If they become complacent in their current stage, they may again become stagnant and again experience a crisis of faith.
Key Point Summary
•We should seek mentors.
•We should mentor others.
•When mentoring, we should listen, love, and empathize without judgement.
For more information about stages of faith, read Enduring a Crisis of Faith.
147.Ann E. Tanner, “Carrying Others to the Pool of Bethesda,” Ensign, Jan. 2011, 64–65.
148.M. Russell Ballard, “An Epistle from an Apostle,” Liahona, Sept. 2019.