Mental Question Shelf–Where to Put Your Questions Until They’re Answered

Mental Question Shelf–Where to Put Your Questions Until They’re Answered March 27, 2018

My internal conflict came to a head as I drove up an interstate onramp towards a vivid sunset.  I don’t remember where I’d been or where I was going, but I remember everything about that moment.  I can wind it down in total slow motion. Passing the tiny misshapen tree on the left as I vocalized the faith crisis. Checking my right shoulder of the onramp to see if I needed to yield to onramp traffic as I prepared to merge onto the interstate, in the heat of logic statements.

As I crested the onramp’s summit, the sunset’s brilliant colors hit my windscreen just as the Holy Ghost bathed every atom of my being in peace.

It was a season of decision for some of my friends and loved ones. They’d expressed their confusion, dissatisfaction, and even anger about some policies and doctrine. I listened, trying to understand their perspective.

I’d always had faith in God. I’d always believed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was His church despite the weaknesses of man. I wanted to be a safe haven for loved ones struggling.

I felt like a last leaf on a wintering plumeria tree.

Questions Are OK

Someone posed a question I’d heard years before, in July 1992, asked by a belligerent Scottish preacher on the Isle of Lewis.  We’d been teaching one of his parishioners and the preacher joined our discussion, which was awesome! The preacher became more and more antagonistic as our time together went on, and then he asked a question that I didn’t know the answer to and it shook me a little bit.  He got up suddenly, grabbed his parishioner,  and shook his feet at the doorway of our friends’ home. It was shocking.

My scripture study focused on that question for months. I read the Book of Mormon over and over again looking for clarity.  It dealt with the question in various ways, but in coordinating discrepant ways based on the way I asked the question.

Why didn’t I receive an answer?!

Mental Question Shelf

I put the question on my mental question shelf. I never completely give up on getting answers, I just set them aside after  sufficient study hasn’t yielded results, expecting to learn the answer at some future time. (Admittedly, after what I determine is sufficient study time :))

Ten years later, that same question prompted the evacuation of my friend’s faith. I felt so frustrated.  Why had I still not received an answer to that question?  Maybe because my belief was wrong.

A war of words and tumult of opinions commenced, all in my mind and heart. I sifted concepts and doctrines. I examined my perceptions of doctrines versus other ways of understanding them. What did I actually know to be true?

Many of the actual voices of dissent I heard said that if this question remained unanswerable or tilted against long-held views, the church wasn’t true. That was absolutely true.

But I still didn’t get an answer about it.

An Answer Without Answering The Shelf Question

At the stop light before that interstate ramp, the Holy Ghost whispered an option I hadn’t considered. If I leave this church, what would I have to do to be compliant with other churches’ view of salvation?

As I turned onto the onramp, these thoughts flashed to mind.

Many churches I’m familiar with teach that I just need to believe in Jesus and I’d be saved.  I believed in Jesus, that wasn’t in question. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches a belief in Jesus. So technically, I checked that box for other churches’ declaration of faith and salvation prerequisite to heaven.

Many churches I’m familiar with require baptism to be saved. Besides believing in God himself, the baptizer doesn’t necessarily need any specific authority to baptize. No particular words are mandated. I have been baptized by someone who believed in God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches a belief in baptism, more specific in authority and execution than any other faith I’ve heard learned about. So technically, I checked that box for other churches’ baptism salvation prerequisite to heaven.

Many churches I’m familiar with espouse a code of conduct/moral code based on the Biblical 10 Commandments and Jesus Christ’s elevated teachings in the New Testament. I believe and follow the same and was taught to do so in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So technically, I checked that box for other church’s living a moral life prerequisite to heaven.

If, as other churches teach, God in His magnanimity accepts each of these diverse, though generally similar, paths to Him, then my path would be accepted too.

And what have I gained by adhering to a covenant path prescribed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in addition to these requirements for salvation?  That prompted question hit as I crested the summit into that sunset. Memories and joy and experiences burst into my mind’s eye like fireworks in Hawaii at New Year’s! Temple and revelation and covenant and ordinance and callings and my mind stretching and stretching and stretching.

The Holy Ghost reminded me of experiences where I encountered Christ. Floods of specific moments came to mind when I knew what I knew and I knew that He knew that I knew.

In 15 seconds of onramp, the Holy Ghost healed my conflict through logical reasoning. I realized my personal tree was full and still thriving.

However, I still didn’t receive an answer to that question.

By Emőke Dénes (kindly granted by the author) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
PC: Emőke Dénes
I put the question back on the mental shelf.  I studied the topic regularly in the ensuing years.

On March 15, 2018, in the 9:00 am endowment session at the Laie Hawaii Temple, the Holy Ghost took that question off of my mental shelf, brought it to my mind and heart, and answered it! I felt sheer happiness!! Then I realized that answer prompted a thousand more questions. They will probably be going on the shelf.

And that’s OK.

I know holding on when questions aren’t answered is sometimes hard. I know not every question is answered when we think we need it to be answered. I know the Holy Ghost will teach us at the right times, in the right ways for us. And it’s easier to bring things to our remembrance if we’ve laid a foundation for Him to do so.

There are so many specific things of God’s overarching plan that I don’t fully understand. Having a mental question shelf to put unanswered questions on enables me to keep asking, searching, pondering, and praying for God’s wisdom when I’m ready to receive and comprehend it line by line.

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