Hey guys! So as you may imagine in my line of work I sometimes come in contact with people who have left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While people leave for all sorts of different reasons, I think most of the time it ultimately comes down to these two words: Unmet expectations. What they were expecting to find in the Church simply isn’t what they found. In this episode, I want to talk about a framework originally outlined by Bruce and Marie Hafen that can help us formulate realistic expectations, and can help us approach tough questions in a productive way. Let’s do it.
Alright, so within this framework, there are 3 stages or phases. They are Simplicity, Complexity, and Simplicity beyond Complexity. Stage One is the idealistic butterflies and rainbows stage. The Church is great, your ward is great, life is great. Everything is awesome. The Hafen’s bluntly describe stage One as “innocent and untested.”
Stage Two is complexity. If you think Stage One is all there is, running into Stage Two can be really painful. Maybe you discover information from hostile or friendly sources that doesn’t quite square with the idealistic view of the Church you had before. Maybe a Church leader says or does something you disagree with. Maybe there’s a past or present Church policy that doesn’t make sense to you. You notice that there’s a bit of a gap between the ideal and the real.
How you react to Stage Two makes all the difference. And this is where some people leave the Church. For some people, the gap between the ideal and the real is just too great. They can’t go back to the innocence of Stage One, but sometimes the complexities seem beyond reconciliation. So, they leave the Church. That’s their choice, and we’re not going to judge them. But leaving isn’t the only option on the table. For many people, there’s still Stage Three to look forward to—Simplicity Beyond Complexity.
“In Stage One, the inexperienced person seems to have all of the answers, but may not yet know many of the questions. In Stage Two, that same person can have all of the questions, but few of the answers.”
Those in Stage Three recognize and come to terms with complexity, while also finding value in, and where possible, working towards the ideal in realistic ways. Complex issues have perhaps helped refine their faith, but they don’t feel the gap is so wide that they need to leave the Church because of them. It’s not a blind faith, but an informed and a trusting faith. When they notice a gap between the ideal and the real, they acknowledge the gap and, if possible, try to close the gap. For example, if their local ward isn’t as warm and inviting as they’d hoped, instead of not coming back, they try to be the warm and inviting people in the ward.
Once you understand this 3-Stage framework, you see it all over the place. For example, oftentimes when you’re dating someone everything seems like butterflies and rainbows. You’re the ideal match and you’re going to get married and live happily ever after. That’s Stage One. Then you get married and soon realize that your spouse has flaws that maybe you didn’t know about earlier. Maybe you disagree on how to manage finances or on how to raise kids. That’s part of Stage Two: Complexity.
Sometimes the gap between the ideal spouse and the real spouse may be too great and may result in divorce. Others will work through the complexities and go on to have a beautiful marriage on the other side of complexity. They are aware of each other’s flaws and work through some of them, but they still both love and value each other despite them.
If you’re going to formulate expectations, expect to find complexity, but recognize that complexity is oftentimes OK—all is not automatically lost. Look for that beautiful kind of settled simplicity that lies beyond complexity.
Now, how exactly do you move from Stage Two to Stage Three? Questions and doubts about faith can either be the wind that sinks your ship or fills your sails. Speaking for myself, when I run into complexity there are a few general principles I try to remember: First, don’t panic. Dealing with complexity may not be fun, but it’s important to take your time and do good, efficient homework to understand the complexity, which we talked a bit about in this episode. Sometimes it may turn out that things aren’t as complex as they seem.
As you do your homework, try to meet complexity with an attitude of humility and meekness. Be ready and willing to be wrong sometimes, and be willing to make paradigm shifts where necessary. We learn “line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” The missionaries are trained to teach you the basics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Restoration. They’re not trained to walk you through 200 years of Church History. Learning about this stuff is super important, but
it’s not what missionaries are for, it’s not what general conference is for, and it’s not what our Sunday worship services are for. Today the Church has excellent resources available to help introduce us to the complexities, but it is ultimately up to each of us to do our homework.
Also, remember that as Latter-day Saints we believe that God “will yet reveal many great and important things” to us. That implies that there are questions right now that we don’t have great answers to. So don’t set the expectation that you’re going to find answers to every question right away. We’re going to have to learn how to live with some ambiguity. Some people will be more comfortable with that than others. But as you decide what to do with that ambiguity, please don’t get so caught up in complexity that you forget those doctrines and beliefs that you do understand and that are beautiful and inspiring to you. Beware of tunnel vision.
Last but not least, another thing you can do at Stage Two is reach out for some added perspective from those who may already be in Stage Three. Chances are, none of the complexities you’re going to run into related to our faith are going to be new, and there are plenty of people and resources out there that can help. And of course, don’t forget to involve God in that process. I hope this framework is helpful to you—in more than just the realm of faith. Check out the resources in the YouTube description for more info, and have a great day!
- “Faith is Not Blind,” by Bruce and Marie Hafen is available here (along with a free preview): https://amzn.to/3760Kg1
- The Hafen’s have an entire YouTube channel where they discuss the principles outlined in their book. Check it out!: https://bit.ly/3zHigUS
- “Faith is Not Blind” BYU-Hawaii devotional: https://bit.ly/3i5BpZT
- “Faith is Not Blind” website: https://bit.ly/3iVIr2x
- “On Dealing with Uncertainty,” by Bruce Hafen (1979 BYU Devotional): https://bit.ly/3zNSz59