I was raised in the Presbyterian faith and my background was ingrained in that culture. I grew up with a very negative perception of the LDS church and was taught that they were a non-christian cult. I had never met a Mormon in my life so I had no reason to doubt this.
My life changed significantly when I moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple University. Temple was a big, diverse, public school full of a lot of different ideas. I tried to retain my faith and attended a variety of Protestant churches during my first three years of college. However, I felt like God wasn’t answering my prayers. There was silence when I prayed. I enjoyed the social and ritual aspects of church but I truly felt alone spiritually. When you desperately want to feel a connection to God and you feel nothing at all it can get discouraging. This silence continued and was a cause of great frustration for me. I distinctly remember many times where I would cry out to God asking why he didn’t seem to be there. I started to wonder whether God cared about me and eventually begin to doubt that he existed at all. What started as mere frustration with God eventually turned into a full-blown faith crisis.
While in college, I read a lot of literature that painted the church in a negative light. Eventually I felt like getting the other side of the story so I began reading Mormon.org. During the summer between my junior and senior years of college I decided to visit an LDS church. I had no intention or interest in changing religions. I just wanted to see what a service was like. I didn’t really understand the doctrines being taught during church that day but I felt a sense of peace and calm. While the members were very friendly, I was more impressed with how close of a relationship they seemed to have with God and how confident they were that their prayers were being answered. This made me more curious about Mormon beliefs.
I met with the missionaries later that week for my first lesson. They taught me about the restoration. How God was actually our Eternal Father. That he has a body like us. That we are literally are his children. That we lived with him as eternal spirits before we came to earth. That he knows us personally, deeply and individually and is heavily invested in our lives. All of these truths blew my mind.
The next day I decided to try to pray, something that had become incredibly frustrating for me over the years. By now my prayers were little more than thinly-veiled angry rants directed at God. This time however, I decided to direct my prayers towards a God that was literally my loving heavenly father, not the metaphorical idea of a father I grew up with, not the distant God I was currently experiencing but a literal heavenly father that deeply cared for me because I was his child.
This prayer was one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I prayed to heavenly father for the first time and felt the most peaceful feeling, it was just completely relaxed and calm. During that prayer I tried to be honest with Heavenly Father about my feelings, I told him I was really struggling and I was looking for truth, and I wanted to be close to him. I followed the instructions of the missionaries and asked him to confirm to me that what they were teaching was true, I received a clear positive impression that my heavenly father was there, that he loved and cared about me. I also felt the impression that what the missionaries was saying was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet through whom God had restored the church. That the restoration was proof that he never gave up on his children.
I’ll never forget the night after that prayer. I felt what I now know to the spirit incredibly strongly. My heart felt like it was a completely at rest and I felt like my burdens had been lifted. Earlier in the year I experienced a very violating home invasion that had completely taken away my ability to sleep peacefully. I often had found myself waking up in the middle of the night full of fear. However, the night after that first honest prayer was different. I felt completely at peace and slept soundly.
After this experience I kept meeting with Elders and was baptized a few months later. I continued to grow in my faith, little by little, piece by piece. The two years since my baptism have had many difficulties that I am now very grateful for. They helped me learn how to lead with faith rather than doubt, how Heavenly Father uses trials to make us stronger, and how the church is divinely organized with a support system to aid those who need help. I recently received my own endowment and the ability to attend the temple has brought me a greater awareness of my true relationship with my Heavenly Father. The gospel is one of the few things in my life that has brought me true lasting peace and joy.