Replanting the Seed of Faith
March 2024

“Replanting the Seed of Faith,” Liahona, Mar. 2024.

Replanting the Seed of Faith

Lessons from those who returned to the faith.

tree trunks and leaves

In a world that often magnifies loss-of-faith stories, quieter journeys of returning to faith sometimes go unnoticed. But reconversion stories illustrate how brothers and sisters in the gospel overcome their doubts even after leaving the Church. Their stories illustrate what Alma teaches about planting the seed. Alma describes a faith process that not only helps strengthen those trying to grow their faith but also helps those struggling with questions and concerns.

  • First, we need to understand that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge” (Alma 32:21).

  • Then we “exercise a particle of faith” or even just a “desire to believe” (verse 27).

  • We plant the seed—the word of God—in our heart (see verse 28).

  • Along the way, we nourish spiritual roots with patience and accept help from friends in the gospel to grow a tree planted in Christ, “springing up unto everlasting life” (verse 41).

“Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21).

Alba Fonseca

Alba Lucia Fonseca, a Church member from the United States, saw material online that raised concerns about her religious beliefs, and she went through a rapid loss of faith. At first, she cast out the seed of faith with her doubts, but then she began talking with a caring and knowledgeable member and realized that her unbelief also raised questions.

“My understanding of gospel concepts and of Church history wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as I had assumed,” she explains. “That humbled me and helped me realize that I still had so much to learn and that faith isn’t arriving at having all questions answered.” Alba realized that other “worthwhile things in life—such as family, education, career—involve risk, sacrifice, uncertainty, and lifelong effort. I came back to the Church and can affirm that maintaining faith is also very much worth this kind of effort.”

President Russell M. Nelson taught, “The Lord does not require perfect faith for us to have access to His perfect power.” Yet our faith, he also points out, requires continued effort to keep growing.1 While the original Salt Lake Temple foundation served well for more than a century, it now needs major renovations, President Nelson explained. We too must at times reinforce our own spiritual foundations “to withstand the forthcoming perils and pressures.”2 As we sometimes encounter difficult material as Alba did, our desire for certainty can lead us from simple belief to simple unbelief, skipping the effort necessary to strengthen and reinforce our spiritual foundation.

Those who study return-to-faith stories have found it helpful to view faith as a lifelong, multi-step journey.3 We might start with a simple belief as a child, but at some point that childlike faith faces questions and concerns. While our untested faith may have served well as a spiritual foundation, we must now move from simple faith through complexity to mature faith that is able to withstand future challenges.4 Abandoning the faith might seem easier, almost like a relief, but rich rewards accompany the journeys of those who turn to God and continue nourishing their seeds of faith.

Trials of faith began for Samuel Hoglund of Sweden when family members raised questions. He went through a phase of “getting one question answered only to come across yet another one,” he explains. “My faith vacillated from one half hour to the next, until I realized this process and my need for certainty were unsustainable.” Instead of trying to resolve every relatively minor question, Samuel decided to study important questions—those critical to a solid foundation in Jesus Christ. Accompanied by prayer and scripture study, Samuel’s search, like Alba’s, taught him how much he still had to learn and brought him to more mature beliefs. “The experience strengthened my faith immensely,” he says, “and also taught me that what you truly seek you will find.”

“If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you” (Alma 32:27).

“Exercising faith can seem overwhelming,” President Nelson acknowledged. “At times we may wonder if we can possibly muster enough faith to receive the blessings that we so desperately need.”5 But even tiny steps of faith, beginning with “a particle of faith,” can “work in you” and begin a spiritual rebirth.

After wandering spiritually in her college years, Amanda Freebairn of the United States took the small step of praying, which led her to follow a prompting to visit her local temple grounds. “Feeling the Spirit there rekindled my faith,” she says. Returning to church and accepting a calling to teach Primary deepened her faith, and she kept taking steps that brought her to fully embrace the gospel. Along the way, Amanda observes, “I found answers to the questions I so desperately needed.”

Dan Ellsworth

At one point, Dan Ellsworth, also from the United States, wasn’t sure he had a particle of faith left to exercise. His initial exposure to academic and historical approaches to the Old Testament weakened his faith in the Bible and affected his belief in all scripture. But Dan kept going to church and decided to experiment for six months with a plan to pray, fast, and serve in the Church. At times, he asked his young daughters to also pray for their daddy’s faith.

After a while, Dan began having spiritual experiences and finding answers to some of the questions that bothered him most. One day, while at a library, he felt prompted to go down a row of books and pick out one. In it, he found insightful counterarguments to the book that initially shook his belief in the Bible. While this experience didn’t resolve every question, it taught Dan some important lessons: “First, I needed to be humble about how much I could really know on my own. And second, other ways of finding truth, along with reason, exist: spiritual impressions, positive outcomes from fruits of the Spirit, and ideas that foster mental breakthroughs, all of which led to much stronger convictions and faith than I had before.”

Zac Marshall and family

For Zac Marshall from England, the simple step of watching an educational video about the Book of Mormon opened his mind to the possibility that the book might be plausible. “I had read it before in family scripture study and on my own without real intent,” he explains. “But I quit being active in the Church as a teenager, so the evidence I saw in the video caused me to read the Book of Mormon intentionally for the first time.” After experimenting on the word of God, Zac started replacing doubt with belief. He now says, “The Church I once saw as restrictive I now see as liberating in the same way Jesus says, ‘The truth shall make you free’ [John 8:32].”

“If ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root” (Alma 32:38).

While taking small steps to nourish faith, we also need to be aware of our ways of thinking that obstruct and hamper faith. In studying return-to-faith stories of Church members in various countries, Eric and Sarah d’Evegnée, professors at Brigham Young University–Idaho, note that “how we think can be as important as what we think.” For example, expecting that religious devotion will spare us the discomfort and heart-wrenching challenges of life is not true and creates unrealistic assumptions. Jesus Christ promised to never forsake us but cautioned that “in the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). Still, life’s challenges can, according to Sarah, “lead us to see the gospel negatively. Sometimes we throw out the ideal when confronted with anything less than ideal.”

Author and independent historian Don Bradley of the United States faced questions about Church history during a time when, he explains, “I just wasn’t happy and had a skeptical outlook. Cynicism about anyone would negatively impact a relationship, and I lost my faith and relationship with God.” Years later, Don began working toward hopefulness and gratitude in his personal life.

He also began examining studies about the mental and physical health benefits of organized religion. “I couldn’t deny those studies,” Don recalls. “Gradually, I realized I had been substituting skepticism for critical thinking, and with a more hopeful attitude toward life, I regained my faith in God and Jesus Christ.” Don returned to the historical information he once grappled with, but now this same material led to a conviction that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.

“If ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, … ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering” (Alma 32:41, 43).

Even with a willingness to experiment on the word of God and to have a hopeful mindset, returning to faith and to church attendance can be a daunting, almost overwhelming, process. The effort requires not only patience, courage, and humility but also the love of friends and family members. Accepting the help of sincere friends nourishes the seed and allows it to take root rather than to shrivel.

Leo Winegar

When Leo Winegar of the United States first encountered questions about Church history, he learned the importance of compassionate friends. “My testimony withered,” he explains, as he went through a period of “loneliness and dark despair when I struggled to pray.” One day Leo felt impressed to contact a Church history professor. He not only encouraged Leo to reconsider his path of doubt but also became a close friend. Leo’s testimony gradually returned with the help of Leo’s mentor and years of hopeful study. In time, he found answers to many questions. “I feel eternally grateful to my Savior Jesus Christ for guiding me back,” he explains, “and for the friends who represented Him.”

“If friends and family … step away from the Church, continue to love them,” advised President Nelson. “It is not for you to judge another’s choice any more than you deserve to be criticized for staying faithful.”6

Letitia Rule

Fear of such criticism kept Letitia Rule, a member in England, away from the gospel for 20 years. She often wanted to return, but she “was afraid of just walking through the door, feeling judged and like I hadn’t been living right.” Only a life-threatening diagnosis gave her the courage to make that difficult step. Members met her with warmth and love, helping her want to participate in the gospel again.

“Plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life” (Alma 33:23).

As Alma ends his sermon, he makes it clear that while efforts to nourish the seed are crucial, they are not the seed itself. Instead, we plant the true seed when we “begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins” (Alma 33:22).

Michael Auras from Germany learned important lessons about gospel priorities after he strayed as a youth. “So many good things and relationships exist in the gospel, but only faith in Jesus Christ will sustain our testimonies,” he explains. “My father and I both faltered in our faith for a season with various questions but returned when we based our faith in Jesus Christ above everything else.”

President Nelson assures us, “The Savior is never closer to you than when you are facing or climbing a mountain with faith.”7 Jesus Himself promises, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). He will walk with us, love us “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), and give us life more abundantly (see John 10:10). Those willing to plant this seed will find that even their small faith can, through the Savior, become “a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life” (Alma 33:23).

The author lives in Utah, USA.