Also: Richard G. Scott tackled this topic back in 1990 in a manner far better than I ever could. Here is the link to his talk "Finding the Way Back." Read it!
For the sake of discussion, let's say I ignored all of the wisdom and counsel of God and his representatives and did not avoid the whirlpool. Yes, I flirted with danger, and now find myself sucked down into the a place where the Spirit did not follow me. I am left to my own devices, and the only voices I seem to hear are the ones lying to me that I have done the right thing.
I failed at avoidance...now it's about survival. How do I survive? How do I climb back out into the sunlight?
And what if I don't even realize that I am in trouble?
The Zoramites of Alma's day had fallen away from the church. There were two groups - the wealthy ones who were puffed up with pride (Alma 31:24-28), and the poor ones who were "forced" to be humble (Alma 32:2-3). Alma and his missionaries found that some of the poorer Zoramites were humble enough to be teachable. So Alma jumped in and began to teach them.
And what did he teach? Alma 32. Need help? I'll give you a hint: Scripture Chase Alma 32:21. Too old? How about Scripture Mastery Alma 32:21? That's right! Alma taught about faith. Faith? To apostates?
And now as I have said concerning faith - faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. (Alma 32:21)
Why would Alma first teach people that are experiencing personal apostasy about faith? Wouldn't he be teaching them about prophets, or scriptures, or even the Savior, or how about just calling them to repentance? Why faith?
Because being in the whirlpool is a crisis of faith. Not a crisis of knowledge, or a crisis of belief. Personal apostasy is a crisis of faith. It is giving up our hope in the things we cannot see. In fact, many who find themselves in the whirlpool are there because they think they have found "knowledge" that supplants their need for faith.
To make it easier to understand, just listen...
I can't see how a loving God would let so many bad things happen.
I can't see how Joseph Smith could possibly be a real prophet.
I can't see how the true church would oppose gay marriage.
I can't see how the true church would deny women the priesthood.
I can't see why I should have to go to a church every week.
I can't see any tangible evidence of the Book of Mormon.
You can't see. We got it. That is the POINT of faith.
The difference is what follows any of these statements - and the way we respond shows a lot about where we are in the whirlpool. If we lack faith we say: I can't see any proof that Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, THEREFORE, I choose to declare that it did not happen.
If we are safely outside of the whirlpool, we say: I can't see any proof that Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, NEVERTHELESS, I will choose to embrace it with hope.
And the hecklers will say "That is blind faith". Duh. ALL faith is blind by definition.
(I don't have time to belabor this point, but I hope you get it. Moving on...)
As all of you had better know by now, Alma continues teaching the Zoramites about faith by comparing it to a seed. If the seed is planted in our hearts, and we don't cast it out, and we nourish it, it will grow up into our own, personal "Tree of Life". (Alma 32:28-43)
(Now we are getting to the point of the post where you are probably wondering where I am going with this. I understand.)
And now it gets difficult: If someone we love is drowning in personal apostasy, what can we do to help them escape? How do we get the seed planted in their hearts so it can grow?
The way out of the whirlpool is through the restoration of faith. It isn't about bible-bashing, or arguing, or browbeating, or compelling someone to pull themselves out of the whirlpool. Compulsion does not work. You can't force-plant the seeds of faith. (ask any missionary, or parent.)
Then what works? Persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned. Oh, and kindness, too. (D&C 121:41-42)
It is no coincidence that this very same Alma had previously rebelled, and had militantly pursued the believers. He knew what he was talking about! He lived it. One of the things that helped Alma come to a knowledge of the truth, was that his father and members of the church were faithfully praying for him.
We can communicate the joy and blessings of the gospel by living it to the fullest, and we can teach if/when the Spirit says the time is right.
• Be an example
• Teach by the Spirit
•••Caution! Don't get sucked into a whirlpool in an attempt to rescue someone that is already there. ('nuff said.)
What if we are the ones in the whirlpool? What do we need to begin our climb out? We have to want to. Yes, it is that painfully simple. Sometimes we are comfortable in our apostasy. Not much responsibility, lots of supportive friends, a feeling of adventure, two Saturdays every weekend.
Alma says that the way out all starts with desire: "...even if ye can do no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that can give place for a portion of my words." (Alma 32:27)
Desire. We have to want it. Tragically, some of us who lose our faith never desire to regain it - or when the desire starts to stir, our 'superior intellect', or our pride tamps it back down. That blasted agency gets in the way...
Sometimes the Lord helps us "want it". He knocked Alma silly. He sends crises that cause us to turn to God. Sometimes we create such a mess by ourselves that we begin to look for a way out. Events like birth, deaths, and ordinances can cause us to re-evaluate our standing in the church and with God. But sometimes, no-matter-what, we refuse to turn and look.
Even so, it all begins with desire, which leads to faith. Remember, apostasy is a crisis of faith.
You gotta want it.
Here is a conversation I had this past week with a reader named Chantelle. We've never met, but she is now my friend. She shared an incredibly personal story of how she emerged from her own personal whirlpool of apostasy. I find it remarkably brave of her to share it, and she and I both hope that someone might benefit from her story. This is a link to her blog. (She's British. That is so cool.) Thank you Chantelle!
Comment on Whirlpool of Spiritual Stupidity:
I have been down exactly this path myself. Not the same sin as you described in the scenario above, but it all happened in very much the same way. For a long while I honestly, hand on heart believed that it was not MY doing - I was simply clicking around looking for lesson material and BAM - there was a truckload of info I wasn't expecting. It drew me in and my testimony at the time seemed to shatter. Thankfully I was only inactive for a few months before pulling myself back together and have since managed to come back swinging and with what I now believe is an unshakeable faith and testimony.
I love how you said in a comment:
"Choosing not follow the Lord's counsel, choosing not to participate in the ordinances of the gospel (sacrament), not fulfilling stewardships, not paying tithes - I see all of these as sins of omission."
VERY true. As I said, I believed for a long time that what I went through wasn't my doing, but slowly (as I allowed myself to be humble and honest) came to realize that if I had been more diligent in scripture study, prayer, knowing the importance of following counsel and commandments... Whatever I came across either would not have made a difference to me if I read it, or I would simply have chosen to not read it. Crisis averted. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, is it not? :-)
A couple days ago you wrote a comment on my "Whirlpool" post that just reached in and grabbed my heart. The comment never got published, because I moderate after one day. I held it back because I thought it was really powerful.
I was hoping to use your comment in my follow-up post, but wanted to check with you first. The main thing I hope to focus on is how the simple basics of daily prayer and scripture study keep us away from the edge of the whirlpool - and you explained that with your own personal experience (in hindsight)
If it is OK to use your comment, please let me know - I would be happy to name you, and give your blog a shout-out, or leave you completely anonymous - your call!
Also, I did have one question: What triggered the return to activity? How did you pull yourself out? Was it an specific experience? An awareness of the absence of the Spirit? I know that some readers are in that whirlpool and can't see their way out - any advice would be helpful.
Sorry to dump this on you, but if you are going to leave fascinating comments on my blog - you are gonna have to pay! ;)
You're more than welcome to use my comment in any way you please - I know
your blog has a wide readership and I hope it may be able to help someone
in some small way. If someone stumbles across your blog who is in a
similar situation it can help to know that others have been there, too! It
may be incredibly naive of me to say that but you just never know.
The way my husband (then boyfriend) and I returned to activity was a
combination of a lot of little things leading up to one big life changing
event. This is probably really simple to explain but I'm terribly good at
using 100 words when 10 would have sufficed so you may need to bear with
It's not really for me to explain my husbands actions so I'll leave him
out and just tell you as much as I can (as clearly as I can) about what
was going on with me.
I went inactive in October 2008 after coming across a lot of anti-Mormon
literature online. As I said in my last comment, in hindsight I never
would have given any of this the time of day (or it wouldn't have
effected me as it dad) if I'd been more diligent in my prayers and
scripture study - two very simple things but oh, SO important.
For a couple of months things felt a little strange, but at the time I put
that down to just settling into a new routine and a change of direction
(in hindsight that was the absence of the spirit, but I didn't realize
when going through it). At this time I very rarely prayed and didn't touch
my scriptures once. I was upset and angry at the church, I felt betrayed,
and I didn't really want a whole lot to do with it.
After a little more time passed and I allowed myself to think more
rationally about the whole situation I started having niggling doubts that
maybe - just maybe - I had made a very stupid, and very rash decision. I
remember times when I would suddenly start singing hymns as I was doing
housework or I'd have a fleeting memory of what I'd said during a
testimony meeting or I'd remember something that stood out to me during
scripture study... Just small things, but they made a big impression. Why
was I feeling this way? And why were these things still so dear to me? Why
had I begun to yearn for something that I was still almost certain was not
This started to happen with more frequency and by the time February rolled
around I was certain that I'd made a mistake, and I'd managed to work
through around 85% of the issues that had driven me away in the first
place. I'm absolutely certain that these moments were my Heavenly Father
trying to reach out to me and I am SO grateful that even though I turned
my back on him, he was completely unreasonable and carried on loving me
and wanting me anyway!
I stopped wrestling with myself and trying to intellectualize every little
detail and just resolved to HAVE FAITH and trust what I felt in my heart,
and what I knew my spirit resonated with. As soon as I did that, I felt
the floodgates open and I fell to my knees - thank goodness I was home at
the time!! Ha! I will never forget how I felt and what I said - I prayed
like I have never prayed before or since. My renewed testimony for the
church and the spirit it brought with it was like a fire enveloping me. It
was wonderful, and it is so amazing to be humbled in such a way.
I remember around this time driving in my car and it was the first time
I'd REALLY gained a testimony of modern-day Prophets. It all suddenly
clicked how absolutely AMAZING it was that we have a Prophet on the earth.
A PROPHET! A messenger of God! Here! Today! I had to pull the car over, I
was in tears and couldn't see to drive... Heavenly Father was very good to
me during those months, and my testimony grew quicker and stronger than it
ever had before that point.
... But I'd walked out months before in such a blaze of glory it took a
while longer for me to get the guts to say anything to anyone about how I
was feeling. I've known others to feel the same way, and it's true when
people say that the first step is often the hardest. But I got a great big
push in the right direction when my husband proposed and we got engaged in
the April. Suddenly I saw myself five-ten years from that point with
children... That got me thinking about our future family and what was
REALLY important. What we really NEEDED in our lives. What we wanted to
So - we took the plunge. We prioritized, stopped being stubborn and
listened to our hearts rather than our heads. And it led us home. And you
can bet there's nothing that can EVER tear me away again.
... And you can bet I try my hardest never to ease up on my prayer and
scripture study nowadays! It's WAY too important. I really think people
underestimate the power and worth of these two little things, and it's
massively dangerous to think that way. They keep me close to my Heavenly
Father, they ensure I have the constant companionship of the Spirit and
they reassure me that I am on the right track.
The funny thing is, now I honestly cannot remember the details of what
drove me away in the first place. My testimony, my church membership and
all that comes with it is so VERY precious to me that I cannot imagine why
on earth I was ever tempted to give it up. It's like it was a whole other
person in another life. The adversary is indeed sneaky and he WILL hit you
where you are weakest, often without you realizing until it is too late.
Sorry - I told you I was good at being "wordy"! I'm not sure how much or
how little of the above you will need or want to use, but feel free to use
any of it however you see fit.
I know your post will be a huge help to anyone currently struggling with
this and I pray that I may be able to assist in any small way.
If you need any more info - please let me know.
PS. If anyone gets in touch with you that is in a similar situation and
needs someone to talk to, I'm more than happy to help.