My Most Important Journey
By Valynne Wilcox Laymon
The summer I turned 13, I used to lie on our cool lawn grass, look up at the blue sky and make many imaginative pictures of the passing clouds. I was moving into adolescence, and four questions kept coming to mind:
1. How did I get here on this earth?
2. What was I supposed to be doing?
3. How was I do to “it”?
4. Where would I eventually be going?
By the end of that summer, I knew that it would take time – maybe a lot – for me to get the answers I felt I needed. However, I knew very assuredly that I wanted and needed truth in all things.
Being the oldest of three children in our family I was the “practicing Mormon” until I went to the three-year nursing school at Salt Lake’s L.D.S. Hospital. Student nurses often had to work Sundays. Many Sundays I didn’t get to church, i.e., usually Sunday School. I really made little attempt to go to regular church services. I think I found them dull to accusatory, and not very helpful. But who could I discuss this with? NO ONE, of course.
I became aware that the leaders (teachers and officers) seemed to feel that they should tell us all how we were to live. But often the “recipe” for this seemed to be missing some of the “how-to” ingredients. They stressed being honest, truthful, pure, and kind, as well as keeping the Word of Wisdom and paying tithing, but they never gave us much practical advice that enabled us to succeed at these. Along with these things was the subtle to often quite strong emphasis that only Mormonism had the full teachings – the best theology, the true gospel.
As I grew older and had heard a number of times that Mormonism was the only true religion, that we Mormons were THE SPECIALLY CHOSEN PEOPLE OF GOD, I began to really have questions.
First, I knew many people in Carbon County, Utah, the county that I grew up in, seemed to be fine people, but were not L.D.S. However, since another subtle (to overt) ploy of Mormon leaders was that it would be near a cardinal sin to question Mormon teachings, I did not ask many questions. Perish the thought to ever inquire into another belief system! I knew if I asked L.D.S. teachers any questions, I’d get the return questions from them as to whether or not I’d been reading and studying Mormon scriptures. I’d already heard this response.
I’ve been an avid reader of quality literature since I was eight years old and had to stay in bed for the most of the time for six weeks with Otitis Media (middle-ear infection). There were few pain medicines that long ago, and children could take only a limited amount of aspirin, so reading could take my mind off my hurting physical state better than anything else. So read, read, and read, I did.
However, I did not enjoy reading L.D.S. literature. I found Mormon texts, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, unclear confusing, seemingly imaginative, but often boring. At one point I could see it was obvious that some details would be impossible – the numbers of people produced in the limited time given, was not possible – for example. (Book of Mormon)
Even the Bible seemed to me a strange book, hard to understand. Years later when I invited Jesus into my life and became a born-again believer, it turned into the most inspiringly clear book I’ve ever read. Oh, I won’t pretend to know and understand all it says, I’ve only been studying it a little over 20 years! but more of its pearls of wisdom fall on me every time I pick it up. What a book!
Back to my student nurse days. In those days the L.D.S. Hospital and student living quarters were in the Ensign Ward, in The Avenues area of Salt Lake. The Avenues contained the largest and most expensive homes in the city at that time. The Mormon Church president was Heber J. Grant, whose home was within walking distance of the hospital. It was large, fancy, and near an overlook of lovely City Creek Canyon. Ensign Ward had nearly all wealthy members, even though the Great Depression had not entirely faded in the West, those years of 1937 to 1940. It didn’t take long for mere working student nurses to find their place on the social ladder at a ward like Ensign.
Having come from the most ethnically diversified county in Utah, where the people were also hard working and very productive, I found, as did the majority of students, that the snobbery of Ensign Ward members was not very much appreciated. We soon chose another ward for our church involvement (so much for the L.D.S. teaching of being kind to all. The L.D.S. in Ensign Ward fell short of living that out). I had already wondered about and decided that there seemed rather a lot of egotism in the concept that we Mormons were a chosen – even superior – people. Now I was finding out that some of us seemed to be more “superior” or “chosen” than others.
I married a non-Mormon in 1942, and we subsequently became the parents of two especially treasured daughters. My husband, Marvin, served in WWII for 31/2 years. While we were living through those years, we didn’t talk much about our belief systems. I was becoming more and more of a “Jack-Mormon.” I would attend Mormon Church from time to time for a few Sundays. The girls often went with me. (Actually, it was usually Sunday School with rare exceptions. As indicated, I did not like the regular church sessions.)
The same four questions which had come to me at age 13 were still with me. However, the few times I asked questions in my particular way, I knew that they were usually viewed as critical, not as mere inquiry. I have since learned that with the L.D.S. leaders I’ve encountered, there is not any middle ground, no neutral area. If one questions any of their teachings, the questioning usually is taken as anti-Mormon, sadly, not even as anti-Mormonism, which it actually is (the doctrine, not the people).
Back to my journey. As I grew older, I went back to the Mormon Church less and less. This was because I still had those unanswered questions, none of which ever got answered. Now, I realize that for me to be a steady Mormon could have been a very nice social club, except that my husband wasn’t interested. I came to realize, when I did become a Christian, that my dear Marvin had been exposed as a child by his dear mother to too much Biblical Christianity to ever buy into the man-made tenets of Mormonism (such as temple marriage for time and eternity; three degrees of glory; performing rites for others, such as baptism, marriages, “sealings” for the dead; changes in doctrine under the umbrella of always having a “living prophet;” the ideas that God started out as a man, that men may achieve godhood, that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer, etc.).
Though my husband wasn’t interested, our daughters attended L.D.S. Sunday School fairly regularly for a couple of years, even asked to be baptized at ages 9 and 10. The Ward Teachers called on us at times, however my husband rarely would listen to their message. He’d find something else to do out of the house.
After a while, the girls began to ask questions of me which were somewhat related to my four questions, or were like my own doubts about Mormonism. I didn’t have answers for them. Nor were they getting answers from their Sunday School teachers. When they both decided they’d rather not attend, I did not insist that they should. I felt that to do so, on my part, would be hypocritical as I still didn’t have the answers I needed and so, didn’t have the ones they asked about. After that my church-going was even more sporadic, more long periods of time away from church than the brief times in.
Back at the University of Utah at age 39 to 40, I took a philosophy course. In the section on the study of mostly Eastern religions, the instructor asked the class if we really needed someone to teach us what and how to believe. As a Jack-Mormon, I superficially took this to mean, “Did we need a salaried clergy?” because Mormons had impressed upon me with great pride we had volunteer leaders.
After my graduation, our daughters and I settled back in with Marvin in Wyoming. I started attending Mormon Church again, but stayed for only a short time. Again, the answers I needed were not forthcoming. But the philosophy teacher’s question stayed with me. I was sure it meant something other than how I had originally interpreted it. His question, along with my other four, still needed answers urgently.
I still didn’t know where to get those answers. I prayed at least once a day, more when I was worried or especially concerned for a family member or friend. However, not really knowing God, I was not sure He’d answer my prayers. Since they were so repetitious, I thought He surely must get bored with them at times, but I said them faithfully at least daily.
I recall a time when some young Mormon missionaries in Sheridan, Wyoming, asked if they could visit us. I agreed, and my husband came to one session. They used flannel board as part of their demonstration. This seemed interesting to me until I realized how manipulative-toward-“pat” answers their questions were. Marvin decided he was not interested in more of their lessons. I decided that neither was I. Their leading questions were very manipulative. By then, my many years of psychiatric nursing had proven to me that the personality trait of manipulation was among those most difficult to deal with in any person. I had come to a simple definition of manipulation: treating people impersonally as if they were mere objects, not really human beings, which discounts both their ability to think and their feelings. Because their manipulation angered me, I declined any more lessons.
In March 1973, I decided it was time to do something radically different: I prayed and asked God to simply show me THE TRUTH about what to believe. THE TRUTH had no L.D.S. strings of even the smallest kind attached. Previously when I had prayed for truth, I always meant truth within Mormonism.
Right after that I spend almost an entire night praying in a manner I had never done before. I was asking the Lord’s forgiveness for any hurt or harm I had ever done to anyone during my entire life. I now know that God led those prayers that night, that He was moving in my life in answer to my prayers for TRUTH.
Four years later I found the amazing basis of that TRUTH in a Bible Study at a dear friend’s home, when I literally asked Jesus, our Savior, into my life. Why this part of my journey was four years long, I haven’t a clue, except I do know that God’s timing is perfect. He always does everything right and perfectly! In Him, in His Word, I now have full answers to those five questions s that fueled my journey to find Jesus as my Savior and the truth in Him.
I’m here on this earth because God decreed it. My purpose here is to get to know God, the triune God of the Bible. This process began for me when I invited Jesus the Christ into my life. That all started me on my earthly journey to eventually end up in Heaven with God. I am achieving this by studying His Word, the Bible, by listening to Bible truths preached. This requires that I know what’s in THE BOOK well enough to know when a speaker or pastor is in agreement with what the Bible says. I also need to mingle with God’s people and be accountable to them. For example, if they have a need I can take care of, I should do it. I must pray for, and support them.
There are no degrees of rank or authority in true Christianity. This is not to say that some are not better informed than others. A believer is regarded with increasing knowledge as he or she studies the Bible or learns from other Christians. This all begins with and continues in a personal relationship with our Savior, Jesus. We are saved by faith, not by works. (EP 2:8-9; JN 1:12; RO 10:9-10)
I have become a new creature (II Cor. 5:17) and live by faith in Him (GA 2:20; COL 1:27). I gain more and more faith and trust in our Lord, more of letting my old self be cast aside for the new person I am becoming in Him. (PH 4:6-8). I don’t spend time worrying since I became a child of God, the King. Problems come to everyone – surely some to me. By His grace (unmerited favor) and with His helpful guidance, things always work out for the best (II TIM. 1:7; RO 8:28).
The best known Biblical translators and scholars agree on a figure of a .03-3% margin of error in Biblical translations (those done from original texts, not translations of translations). Along my learning and experience journey I’ve found out that just regular history, without any special attention to ecclesiastical history, confirms that there have always been believers in Christ since He first came to this earth. God’s word, the Bible, states in MT 16:18 that: “On this rock (‘rock’ being the salvation Jesus’ death on the cross provides to all believers), I will build my church (followers) and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Those gates have never prevailed against His church. It has always been here. There was never a need to restore something which never left the earth, gatherings of His people: the church.
Oh yes, dear ones, there is a Hell. It is not a temporary stopover, but a state of misery and torture (self-recrimination likely being largely the cause). It results in being absent from God’s presence. We each are privileged to make our own choice of Heaven with Him, or Hell without Him. Our loving God wants to shower us with His blessings, lead us through the dark valleys, and eventually take us to Heaven. The choice is each individual person’s to make.