I was a competitive tennis player and an academic high-achiever. Whatever I did, I did it with all of my heart—and being a good Mormon was no exception.
As a sixth-generation Mormon girl, I believed that the Mormon Church was the one true church of God. I believed Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. By age six, I was convinced that having a temple marriage and faithfully obeying Mormon laws would qualify me to spend eternity in the highest heaven—the Celestial Kingdom. There, I would exalt into godhood and bear spirit children. This was my greatest dream.
As a young girl, obedience felt as easy as skipping pebbles. As I entered my teenage years, it felt more like dragging boulders. The burdens included paying a full tithe, dressing modestly, maintaining sexual and moral purity, actively attending church, and obeying the Word of Wisdom (which forbade consuming alcohol, tea, coffee, or tobacco). I longed to make myself worthy of entering the temple one day.
But there were temptations to resist. Throughout high school, Mormon friends of mine began drifting into the world of partying. Alcohol seemed to release them from the striving and shame that comes with performance-based love. It took a will of steel to resist joining them each weekend. For three years I resisted, feeling like a pressure cooker of unworthiness waiting to explode.
Testing My Beliefs
As a senior, I gave up resisting, telling myself that this rebellion would only last for a season. I jumped into the party world with the same passion I brought to the rest of my life, funneling beer without restraint. One party at a time, my conscience started shutting down. I was “unworthy”—and relieved to no longer care.
Yet even as I felt liberated from Mormon legalism, I didn’t waver from believing that the Mormon church was God’s true church. That truth was embedded deep within.
During my freshman year at the University of Utah, I met Gary. We were both athletes living rebelliously, and we were mutually infatuated. Though we shared much in common, our religious beliefs differed. Gary told me he was a born-again Christian—I’d never heard of one. For the first month of our relationship we avoided the subject. Then, on a wintry December day, Gary cracked open the door of this conversation.
“How do you know Mormonism is true?” I had never heard this question before. But without hesitation, I replied, “Because I’ve experienced a burning in my bosom.” (This is what our scriptures had informed us—that a “burning in the bosom” would accompany the perception of authentic truth.)
Gary was not so easily swayed. Over the next 15 minutes, he challenged my logic. He asked me to explain how an emotional experience alone makes something true, pointing out that feelings ebb and flow and vary according to circumstance. I, however, knew no other paradigm for assessing spiritual truth. Moreover, I had been taught not to question or test my beliefs, so I never did.
Gary continued, “Have you looked into the historicity of Mormonism?” Historicity? What is that?
“How do you know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God? How do you know the Book of Mormon is God’s Word?” More questions that had never crossed my mind. Within minutes, my unease turned into terror. I realized that a burning in my bosom wasn’t going to convince Gary of anything. What had felt like a firm foundation was dissolving into quicksand.
Over the next month, Gary and I partied together and avoided spiritual conversations. I was afraid of reckoning with my own ignorance. Challenging Mormonism meant betraying my parents, my church, and my community.
Nevertheless, our affection for each other was growing, and we knew this lingering division needed to be addressed. So we agreed to study the Bible together. Gary believed it was the Word of God, and I believed it was true “as far as it was translated correctly.” I hoped Gary would convert to Mormonism. He hoped I would encounter a Jesus he believed I had never met.
It only took one Bible study to send me into a tailspin. Each subsequent study stirred up further distress, as I was shocked to find several crucial disparities between biblical and Mormon teachings. For five months I battled with Gary and the Bible, defending Mormonism with passion. But my fortress began to crumble as I compared the historical authenticity of Mormonism and Joseph Smith with that of the Bible.
This was devastating and infuriating. At the same time, it opened my mind to the biblical view of my nature—sinful, not divine. I saw that I could not obtain eternal life through a temple marriage but only through God’s grace. It also opened my mind to better understand God’s nature—three persons in one God, the Father being Spirit instead of flesh and bones. The Mormon God was a man who worked his way into godhood. The biblical God had always been God, unchanging. I struggled to wrap my mind around this.
I saw, too, that God was inviting me to walk into his kingdom through trust in Jesus. Covered in Christ’s righteousness, I would always be worthy of the Father’s delight and presence. But rejecting the faith of my forebears and risking the wrath of my family terrified me. I wanted further assurance that I was right to take this plunge.
After five more months of research, I was still wrestling with the idea of a Trinitarian God. One day, as I sat in bed conflicted, God drew near to me in a vision. I saw a sea of people around Jesus, who sat on a throne. They bowed before him, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and is, and is to come.” As they worshiped, I fell to my face and wept.
On that hot August day, I received Jesus into my heart and walked into his kingdom. I was free of the shame that had suffocated me for 18 years.
Covered in Worthiness
In the months that followed, God gave me a desire to finally confront the addictions that had grown and festered within me. I prayed that he would fill me with the love and peace I’d sought through relationships and alcohol, which could never satisfy. But I felt powerless to change.
On my 21st birthday, after consuming large quantities of alcohol, I spent the night fending off drunk guys who wanted to take me home. I steadied a friend’s forehead as she vomited into the toilet of a urine-soaked bathroom. I craved a different kind of life.
That same December night, I returned home and fell face-down before God. With fists clenched and tears streaming, I offered each addiction to him, inviting him to have his way in my heart, my mind, and my body. I asked him to free me to live fully surrendered to Jesus, the one who gives life. And then I slept.
When I awoke the next morning, I felt born again, as if God had performed a total heart and mind transplant. I was released from my addictions, and peace filled my entire being. The Mormon girl inside me breathed a sigh of relief. Set free from the burden of proving myself worthy, I rested in the arms of the One who had loved me enough to cover me with worthiness all his own. And I longed to pour that love into others.
Lisa Brockman is a staff member of Cru living in Florida. She is the author of Out of Zion: Meeting Jesus in the Shadow of the Mormon Temple (Harvest House).