I can’t speak to your experience. I can’t speak even to my own. But I’ll tell a story.
I remember the day and time and place that I stopped believing in God, but not the date.The date may be missing because I both believed in God long after this and stopped believing in God long before it.
The story goes like this.
I’m in Orem for a conference. It’s late Saturday afternoon, the sun is low, and I’m alone in my hotel room. I spent the afternoon with a doubting friend. We skipped whole panels of papers. It’s something like ten years ago. Now I’m kneeling bedside, my pose classic, my face wet, my one dependable quality on display. I pray overearnestly.
I explain to God that I can’t be responsible for his existence. That’s not a burden I can bear. And then, as if in answer to my prayer, it occurs to me that I’m right: God’s existence is not my responsibility. It’s his. If God wants to exist, that’s up to him.
Relief comes in like the tide. I wash my face and go back to the conference, my prayer answered. From then on I stop believing in God.
I don’t tell my Mom, but I don’t stop going to church either. I don’t stop praying or reading or doing my home teaching. I don’t stop going to the temple. I don’t go away. I stay. I’m relieved. I sit in the pew and hold my wife’s hand and color with our children and over years and years a great stillness settles.
This stillness is a door.
I walk through the door backwards. I start to read scriptures and hear talks and give lessons literally. That baptism of fire is no metaphor. That rest of the Lord is no pie in the sky. I know less about Jesus than I ever did, but the kingdom keeps taking on weight and definition and solidity. Without any supernatural recourse, without any fuel in the rocket of belief, Jesus’ words have no place to go and they just stay where, with a thump, they land: at my feet, at the end of my nose, ringing in my ears, knocking at my red, red front door.
Unable to substitute for what’s given a belief in what isn’t, I’m saved. Something is happening to me – something redemptive and penetrating and difficult and not entirely welcome – but it’s nothing like belief. And its happening here and now and in this Mormon pew.
You, work out your own salvation. Undergo your own ascesis. God’s ways are not my ways. He is free to exist as he will (or won’t) and do with me as he wishes.