My Story: Coming back to church. By Suzanne Bates

I had an experience as a 20-year-old that showed me clearly that God knows who I am and helped me understand how much He loves me.

I grew up a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a suburb just outside Toronto, Canada. My parents are both converts to the church. They set a good example for me, and we went to church just about every Sunday. Over time I developed a belief that I had a Heavenly Father who loves me, and I had good experiences reading the Book of Mormon and going to church.

What I didn’t have was confidence that I could keep all of the commandments all of the time. I struggled with obedience in my teen years and kept feeling like I was falling short. Eventually I stopped going to church regularly. When I moved away to go to college in Kingston, Ontario, I stopped going to church altogether.

During this time in my life I questioned my belief in God. I was challenged to defend my belief by my professors and friends who didn’t believe, and I didn’t have any good answers for them. I thought maybe what I had learned when I was younger was wrong, and that even if it was right maybe it wasn’t right for me.

At the beginning of my second year in college I went through a series of difficult experiences, some brought on by my own mistakes and some brought on by the mistakes of others. I saw first hand how evil the world can be, and it frightened me. I felt so empty and so very alone. In the midst of this, one night I couldn’t sleep and so I crawled out of bed and knelt on the floor. I prayed and asked Heavenly Father to help me know if He was there.

The next day I was sitting with my friends in the house we shared when there was a knock on the door. I went and opened the door and there were two missionaries standing on the doorstep, asking if they could share the gospel with me. I was momentarily speechless, but managed to tell them I was a member of the church. They said they hadn’t seen me at church before, and I could tell they were a little surprised to hear I was a member of the church given my appearance and the state of my surroundings. I told them I would see them at church on Sunday.

When I closed the door I went straight to my bedroom and sat on my bed. I knew this was a message from Heavenly Father, telling me He knew me and that He wanted me to go back to church. I knew it and I couldn’t deny it. It wasn’t just the missionaries standing on my doorstep, it was the feeling I had as soon as I opened the door. I felt the Spirit confirming to me that they were there for me, to answer the question I had asked the night before – that Heavenly Father was there, and He knew me. Even now as I remember that moment it brings tears to my eyes and I feel Heavenly Father’s love for me.

After that experience I didn’t have a perfect road back. I still struggled with some things, and I ended up needing to change my surroundings and go live with a family member so I could have a safe space to heal emotionally and spiritually and to give up some of the habits I had developed. I also needed to go through the repentance process. But I am grateful for that time in my life because I feel like that was when I finally understood what was missing from my testimony – an understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I didn’t have to be perfect to be a member of the church, or to be called a daughter of God. Jesus Christ loves us and will help us as we reach out to Him and are healed by His Atonement.

Here I am almost 20 years later, married with four beautiful children and a belief in Heavenly Father that continues to grow and develop. I know that I am a child of God, and that He loves me and knows me. And I know He loves His other children as well and that He wants us all to feel the hope and power that comes through Jesus Christ.

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