The recent video of Elders Ballard and Oaks discussing their upcoming face-to-face event, especially their comments regarding submitted questions, piqued my interest in those questions. In the video, Elder Oaks mentions that many questions were about repentance, specifically how one should repent. Oaks makes a joke of it. Elder Ballard later mentions that there are many tough questions – questions without answers – and he jokes that the two of them will avoid those questions.
With my interest piqued, I decided to do some basic analysis of the submitted questions. I wrote a Python script to scrape the face-to-face website and download all of the questions. At the time, there were approximately 2,600 questions going back two months. I loaded the questions into some text analysis tools and began the text mining process (I’m not going to dive into the math involved in my analysis but, if you’re interested, ask me and I’ll be happy to go into more detail).
The first thing I did was to stem the words. This is a technique that tries to revert words to their stem in order to find words that are similar. For example, the words “marry”, “marriage”, “married”, and “marrying” are all related, so stemming them to “marri” allows an analyst to find related phrases and concepts.
I then ran the questions through a tokenizer, which transforms the words within each question into a numerical representation of the word, creating a vector out of each question that consists of points in space that represent each term within the text. The result is a matrix of vectors in some n-dimensional space. I also removed so-called “stop words”, or common words such as “a”, “is”, “it”, etc. I fiddled around with whether to perform this analysis on individual words or phrases, eventually settling on using terms of two words as the basis of the analysis. I then calculated the most prevalent terms.
I expected to find topics such as “Heavenly Father”, “Jesus Christ”, the Book of Mormon, various forms of “singles ward” or “YSA ward”, various forms of “marriage” or “eternal companion”, and “scripture study”, so those didn’t initially catch my attention; however, those topics do contain some interesting questions that I’ll review. What was particularly interesting to me was the prevalence of terms such as “mental illness”, “hard time”, and, most of all, “feel like”. I wondered about the content and trend of these types of questions, so I ran them through a machine learning model that searches through the text, clustering the text into topics. Here are some of the interesting items I found.
Interesting Topic Clusters: priesthood and gender, priesthood power, priesthood blessings
I have seen priesthood holders who are unworthy. I have also heard church leaders say that men “need” the priesthood so they may be better. How come worthiness is less important than gender when it comes to holding the priesthood?
Why is it that women can’t give healing blessings using the priesthood? Or more specifically, why is that women can give blessings through faith instead of the priesthood? And are blessings of faith somehow less important, less powerful, etc than blessings given through the priesthood?
Yw are worried about going into RS and it seems to be getting attention church wide. Why can’t the YW go visit teaching like YM get to go HT? It does not require the priesthood to go vt and it would be a great way to meet RS members and feel comfortable plus help us gain testimony of visit teaching.
I am not married yet, but I want to prepare to be the best husband I can. So, as a priesthood holder, how am I to “preside over my family in love and righteousness” in a meek and humble attitude, without allowing unrighteous dominion to show its ugly face in my thoughts, words, or actions?
Interesting Topic Clusters: dating difficulties, missing marriage, missing opportunities, loneliness, marginalization due to age, priority of marriage
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a wife and mother more than anything in the world. I feel like I am ready for marriage, but dating is incredibly discouraging and more often than not, it causes feelings of loneliness and frustration for me. For the most part, the young men I meet can’t or absolutely refuse to initiate a real date. All people wants to do nowadays is “hang out” like we’re still in high school. I meet boys my age and older who have an endless stream of female friends that they flirt with and I have ended multiple relationships for big issues like dishonesty. I am often frustrated because I just want a loyal, honest, good person who I am attracted to and that I will be, for the most part, happy with but that feels like almost too much to ask for nowadays. What would be your advice for finding the right person, so that people like me can enjoy the blessings of marriage, when dating as a millennial can feel so impossible and pointless?
With all of the folklore and culture surrounding young marriage within the church (notably being “a menace to society” for being 27 and single), I sometimes feel like a second-class citizen within the church because I’m 25 and still single. I recognize that’s still on the young side (at least by non -LDS standards), but when most of my friends I made at BYU are married while I’m still single, I almost feel like a failure at times because it simply hasn’t worked out for me yet. I feel pressure from a few different angles, ranging from living up to my older siblings getting married at age 23-24 to families I met on my mission to well-meaning but ham-handed talks on marriage to a sealer on one occasion giving me a hard time for still being single (it was in jest, but it still bothered me a little). How can I better accept my current marital status and learn to overcome these perceptions? How can I deal with sources of pressure and distress over my singleness?
Older YSAs, say 27-33, seem to be a forgotten and lost group in the church. YSA wards, at least in Utah, seem to be geared towards younger, college-aged YSAs. We are in a different stage of life than younger YSAs, because are finished with college, are in our careers, have post-graduate degrees, and even own homes. We relate more to people in their 30s, who are not part of the YSA wards, but rather attend the Single Adult wards. We want to date and get married, but it seems the older you get, the less likely it is that you’ll get married. People stop coming to church, not because they doubt the Church, but simply because they feel out of place, and they don’t belong in a YSA ward, etc. Loneliness and discouragement, which can be crippling, is a particular issue for older YSAs. What council and advise can you offer the older YSAs? Will YSA wards ever be split up, 18-26 and 27-33 for example?
I am a young single adult who has finished school, has full-time employment, is financially independent from my parents, and over-all am doing pretty good at being an adult. However, there have been many times when meeting with family wards, or interacting with bishoprics/stake presidencies/high council members of singles wards/stake that I feel like I am still looked upon or treated as an adult child or not completely an adult because I have not yet found an eternal companion. I know that this is not what the Lord thinks of me, but how can we, as single adults, start being seen as that, ADULTS, by those leaders we work with and those in our lives who are married?
My question is about Marriage. Here in the Philippines, most single adult understands the importance of making Temple Marriage a priority. However, only a few gets to apply the doctrine because of the strong filipino culture, that a lot of parents instill to their children, that marriage can only be done after attaining a good education, a stable job, and ,sometimes, even possessions such as having a business, a house, or a car. Although, education and having a stable job is very important. How can we make those parent’s and other poeple who share the same views, understand that Marriage should the top priority? Thank You!
What is your counsel for women about dating when there is a skewed ratio of active LDS women to active LDS men? I know many women who struggle to find active LDS men to date, simply because there aren’t as many men as there are women. As a woman who wants a temple marriage, it’s a little disheartening to see the statistics. What can women in this situation do to have hope of a temple marriage when the numbers are against us?
Careers and Education
Interesting Topic Clusters: motherhood and career, educational opportunities, children and career
We’re taught that the greatest calling a woman can have is motherhood. My friends talk about how they feel like they were placed on this earth to be moms. I’ve never really felt that. It’s not that I don’t want to be a mom, but being a mom isn’t the only thing I want to do. I’m a graphic designer & absolutely love my job. It’s not just a career. It’s a part of who I am. Without it, I wouldn’t be me. Technology changes quickly & if I were to take a break for a few years, I would lose the skills that I have spent the past ten years refining. When I try to say how I feel, church members tell me that I’ll change my mind when I have kids. I hear people criticize moms for only wanting 1 or 2 kids or for wanting to work (even if it’s only one day a week). It bothers me. I feel like I’m not a good Mormon because I don’t want 5 kids & want to have at least a semblance of a career so I don’t lose the skills I’ve worked hard for. Does this have to be a choice? Can’t I do both?
For the longest time, I wanted to get married and have children of my own, but since returning from my mission that desire has almost completely disappeared as I’ve come to realize that isn’t my only option. We are to have eternal families, but I feel fine with the eternal family I was born into. I want to peruse an education and career, and honestly how much emphasis is put on me not putting marriage and children off for these persuits annoys me. But I want to do what God wants me to, and eventually I feel I would warm to the idea of marriage and children again. I just don’t understand why there’s so much emphasis on making it top priority. We have a much longer window for marriage and family. Education opportunities sometimes pass so quickly. So how can I find a balance, and how can I come to understand the importance of marriage and family again?
I am a 20 year old female who after praying about whether or not to serve a mission felt that for now I needed to stay at school and continue with my education. Often times people question me harshly about my choice to not serve a mission and since I have yet to date or be in a relationship people seem to think I stayed home for selfish reasons. How do I make others understand that just because I decided not to serve a mission I still have a strong testimony of the gospel?
Interesting Topic Clusters: continuing church membership, loneliness, marriage, place in God’s plan
Elder Ballard and Elder Oaks, Many of us struggle with a transgender identity that falls outside the concept of gender endorsed by the church’s teachings. While the proclamation of the family and church doctrine states that transgender feelings and emotions are outside what God would have for us, many of us still struggle to find peace of mind, and are often unable to find peace without undergoing physical changes. After undergoing certain physical changes transgender members are barred from the blessings of the temple. How much use, then, is continuing church membership and gospel practice if we are unable to receive the fullness of the gospel and fulfill our covenants with the Lord? In addition, why would God’s children be confronted with such struggles? In short: what do transgender church members have to look forward to in continuing our participation within the church? Considering the hindrance to our eternal progress, what should our focus instead be?
Are we ever going to receive more knowledge about transgender people? I’m a transgender man planning my transition, but I’m afraid that I won’t receive support from my family and member friends because of the lack of policy or doctrine. I know this is the right thing for me, but church members don’t know much about it. I’m not looking forward to having to explain myself constantly to other people, and since so many people seem to think that anything to do with LGBTQ people is horrible and to be avoided, I’m afraid of being rejected by ward members. I wish people would show more of the love that we try to preach.
Elder Oaks and Elder Ballard, we love you. I love the gospel more than anything in my life, but my trial is always there. I struggle with same-sex attraction. I know that we all have trials in this life, but I watch all of my friends progressing into marriage and family, and I can’t help but feel wistful. How do I strengthen my faith?
I am a young man who experiences same-sex attraction. Over the summer I fell completely in love with another man, and despite the fact that nothing can ever come of that love, it still tears me apart and the only thing keeping me from being completely miserable is the fact that he lives in a different state from me. I pray for help, comfort peace, everything, but it doesn’t feel like Heavenly Father is or even can do much about it. The best thing that people have told me is that time will dull the pain, but what if I don’t want it to go away? These feelings are precious to me, but how can I live with what I feel and still be an upstanding member of the church?
As a temple-recommend holding gay Mormon, I have felt some envy as I see gay friends leave the church and find love while I remain single. Like the workers in the parable of the laborers, I would feel like all my work to stay true to my covenants was a waste of time if my friends returned and repented and received the same blessings as me. How do I change these feelings of envy and find greater joy in keeping my covenants?
I have experienced homosexual attraction my entire life. Since my teenage years I’ve struggled with pornography use, interspersed with periods of temple worthiness. I was blessed to serve a mission, but since being home for two years have continued to struggle. I want to be married according to the divine pattern, but there is so much I fear. I fear not being able to find a woman I can love and who can love me. Every time I qualify myself for a temple recommend, I find these fears eventually overcome me along with the growing pressure of unfulfilled romantic desires that might be harmless within a heterosexual relationship but are not kosher between those of the same gender, and I eventually resort to pornography use. How can I break this cycle of self-hate, fear, and pornography use? What can I hope for in the future? Will I ever be able to find both spiritual and marital fulfilment?
Despair, Perfectionism, Repentance, Mental Illness
In the Oaks and Ballard video leading up to the face-to-face event, Elder Oaks specifically mentions repentance. He says:
I don’t have answers to a question like, “How can I repent?” That’s a pretty personal matter.
Both Elders Oaks and Ballard have a good laugh at that comment, but after reviewing the questions, I sure hope they come with some answers. Far too many of the questions are about topics such as how one can know when one’s been forgiven by God, perfectionism, despair that God no longer loves someone, or how pornography has permanently stained someone so they cannot be loved. Here are some of the more poignant ones:
I have a serious, treatment resistant mental illness and have the fear of never finding someone and having the opportunity to get married in the temple in this life because of this. How can I face this fear? How can I trust in His plan for me when I feel lonely?
How do you recover from a lack of feeling the Spirit when you have a mental illness? And how can you tell when it’s your own thoughts or actions that led to a lack of Spirit or if it’s your mental illness? How do you keeping your testimony solid or keep it growing when you feel an absence of Spirit, personal revelation, answers to prayers, or feelings in general due to mental illness?
I have major depressive disorder and struggle with anxiety and suicidal ideation daily. I know the worth of souls is great in the eyes of the Lord for others, and I have no problem applying that to other people, but when I consider myself I just… can’t. It’s like there’s a brick wall when I consider my own eternal value. I am on medication, seen doctors, psychiatrists, done all I can temporally, and when I talked to my parents, they just told me my greatest sin is pride. I love my Saviour, and I have been a faithful member all my life, but I feel like there’s no way I could deserve His love. I know academically this is wrong, but I can’t convince myself emotionally. What am I doing wrong? How can I feel like the light of Christ touches me when I feel like I am not good enough to live?
Thank you so much for this opportunity. I’m wanting to know how to know we are forgiven for things please? I am an ex addict, self harmer and due to mental illness have hurt others emotionally and myself physically. I have made a lot of bad choices and I have tried to repent. I am 132 days off all things mentioned in the word of wisdom plus 11 months nearly off hard drugs but I still don’t feel I deserve God’s forgiveness and that there’s nothing i can ever do to have that. The Atonement is so huge and amazing and I am so small and broken. How can I know God has accepted my repentance? Also, how can I feel deserving of our Heavenly Father’s beautiful grace? I feel like nothing I ever do will even bring me close. I want to feel like I’m someone God can be proud of and yet I’m so far from that in my mind. Thank you
Why do people always encourage dating and marriage when there’s no way that someone could love me like that? I’m a young woman who recently got told that I can’t have kids without the help of the medical community. I also have other problems that would drive away any sane man (autism, depression, anxiety, and past trauma that haunts me to this day). I’ve never dated a man from church and I’ve tried so many times to ask them out, but it was all in vain. It’s gotten to the point where I just feel like I need to give up and just worry about my funeral that’s not going to happen anytime soon (unless the depression gets to me again). Is there a way that we can change the way we teach our girls and young women that marriage and kids don’t always happen in this life and that they are just as important as those lucky ladies who do marry and have kids?
I’m struggling with anxiety and depression and I recently was sent home from my mission because of that, do you have any suggestions for how to forgive myself for having to go home.
I feel that my YSA generation is facing a lot of challenges with anxiety and depression (including myself), and when it comes to making big decisions like getting married, grad school, etc… it becomes a challenge to decipher what’s God’s will and what’s our anxiety and depression. What advice could you give us about dealing with anxiety and depression, and better understanding personal revelation.
A few conferences ago, President Monson gave a talk on the choices that we make and how they impact our eternal destiny. In some ways my heart sinks when I reflect on that talk. It has been seven years since I returned home early from my mission due to physical illness and other personal circumstances. I felt like a failure and never knew if the work I had done was enough for the Lord. Had I served honorably? Was what I did enough? I have struggled since then in finding peace that the choice made hasn’t completely altered my eternal destiny. Honestly, I still feel like I have disappointed the Lord even though I am constantly trying to forgive myself and pray for forgiveness. I feel like I have been stuck as I have been trying to progress in life and I often wonder if it is because I didn’t finish the full 18 months of my mission. How do I know that what I did was enough and that I am still worthy to have the eternal blessings that I so desire?
For a great deal of my life, I have had struggles related to pornography. There have been periods of time when I have felt completely isolated from other people and have felt a great deal of shame because I have been struggling. I have honestly confessed to numerous Bishops with a sincere desire to repent and change. I have followed their counsel and at times I have even felt that heavenly father had forgiven me, but the addictive behaviors have remained and to my sorrow have periodically returned. How can I retain hope that through Christ I can change when I have been struggling with this issue for such a long time?
I want to become worthy to go to the temple again. Being unworthy has left me feeling alone and broken, and I feel like I’m missing out on the lives of my friends and family. I want to go through the repentance process, but I know it will be long and difficult and I do not want my family to learn of my unworthiness. How can I go through the process without disappointing my family? I don’t want them to go through the pain I’ve caused with my decisions.
I have a dear friend who broke the law of chastity. She is a returned missionary and thus has received her endowments. She went through the repentance process with her bishop and yet she still feels like she’ll forever be a second-class citizen in the gospel for that mistake. What would you tell her?
I could go on and on along this line. These petitioners are aching for answers to help them deal with crushing doubt and feelings of inadequacy. When our young people do not understand their value to God, we are failing. They do not understand that they have intrinsic value to God, and that value does not hinge on their sexuality, whether they’ve viewed pornography, if they’re overweight, if they suffer from anxiety, if they’ve sinned, or any number of other issues. They don’t have to be perfect to obtain God’s love!
The very idea of these face-to-face meetings is the belief that there are authorities who have an answer for you. Stop! These questions demonstrate that we have not helped our youth find their inner voice. They should have an inner authority that has been tied, through the Holy Spirit, to the voice of God. They shouldn’t need to ask how to repent or to know if they’ve been forgiven. Our culture of perfectionism is damaging our youth and not equipping them to be Christians clothed with the confidence of God’s grace.
Since Elder Oaks stated that they won’t be providing answers for this most pressing issue – the very reason for Jesus’ sacrifice – I’ll just go ahead and leave one of my favorite quotes along these lines.
Sin is something that changes God into a projection of our guilt, so that we don’t see the real God at all; all we see is some kind of judge. God (the whole meaning and purpose and point of our existence) has become a condemnation of us. God has been turned into Satan, the accuser of man, the paymaster, the one who weighs our deeds and condemns us…It is very odd that so much casual Christian thinking should be worship of Satan, that we should think of the punitive satanic God as the only God available to the sinner. It is very odd that the view of God as seen from the church should ever be simply the view of God as seen from hell. For damnation must be just being fixed in this illusion, stuck forever with the God of the Law, stuck forever with the God provided by our sin.
His [the God of Christianity] love does not depend on what we do or what we are like. He doesn’t care whether we are sinners or not. It makes no difference to him. He is just waiting to welcome us with joy and love. Sin doesn’t alter God’s attitude to us; it alters our attitude to him, so that we change him from the God who is simply love and nothing else into this punitive ogre, this Satan. Sin matters enormously to us if we are sinners; it does not matter at all to God. In a fairly literal sense, he doesn’t give a damn about our sin. It is we who give damns. We damn ourselves because we would rather justify and excuse ourselves, and look on our self-flattering images of ourselves, than be taken out of ourselves by the infinite love of God…
Contrition, or forgiveness, is self-knowledge, the terribly painful business of seeing ourselves as what and who we are: how mean, selfish, cruel, and indifferent and infantile we are…
Never be deluded into thinking that if you have contrition for your sins, if you are sorry for your sins, God will come and forgive you – that he will be touched by your appeal, change his mind about you and forgive you. Not a bit of it. God never changes his mind about you. He is simply in love with you. What he does again and again is change your mind about him. That is why you are sorry. That is what your forgiveness is. You are not forgiven because you confess your sin…You do not come to confession to have your sins forgiven. You come to celebrate that your sins are forgiven”
Herbert McCabe, Faith Within Reason