In the past six months, two of my very best friends from University have left the Church.
These two both served full-time missions, made covenants in the Temple, and incidentally, were both there when I received my endowments in the Temple.
Over many years of friendship we have shared testimonies, spiritual experiences, and heartfelt prayers. Their examples and faith have served, in so many ways, so many times, to strengthen my own.
But now, my friends have both decided that for right now, the Gospel is no longer for them. The reasons are different for each of them, and they are real reasons. In the eyes of my friends, they are reasons big enough that they would give up the foundation their lives have, up to now, been built upon, the eternal covenants that they have made, and many of their associations in the Church, for what they feel is the size of their reasons.
Of course, as a friend who loves them deeply, watching them turn away from the very thing that gives me the most peace and comfort and real Truth has been immensely painful. In many ways their choices have affected our relationships, simply because we are no longer able to talk about the same things in the same ways as we did before. Those things make me sad, and I initially struggled a lot over both.
BUT, there is another feeling besides sadness which I need to express--it is gladness. Gladness that there is a plan of Salvation which includes Agency--the ability to think for ourselves, to act and not to be acted upon, to make our own choices and be accountable for the consequences.
I am grateful for the freedom to make my own choices, and the blessing it is to be able to agree to disagree with people. I do not believe that we all have to be the same. I do not believe that there is only one way to be a good person or to do good things. I do, however, for myself, believe that there is only one true way back to the Lord's presence--that is through the Savior, Jesus Christ. I have chosen to stay with Him, and I will continue to choose Him, even as so many I love are going elsewhere. As much as that is difficult, for me it has been a simple and powerful, personal application of the prophesies of the Savior from the New Testament--Luke 12: 51-53 and Matthew 10:34-39.
Most of all, the words of Elder Pearson from this past General Conference keep ringing in my ears:
I know that most people in the world, indeed maybe most people who read this, will not and do not agree with me. That is fine. I greatly appreciate differences in opinion--they add richness to life and lead us to find Truth, if we seek after it. I just ask for respect for what I believe, even as I seek to offer it to those I don't agree with. For me, that is what the whole issue of my friends leaving the Church comes down to for me--respecting them and their freedom to choose. I do, and I will. But I won't join them. I'm going to stay right here, striving to hang on to the Iron Rod everyday, everyday, everyday. You will find me by the tree.