Flannery O’Connor, the Catholic novelist, said it surprised her how many people of her faith “constantly underestimated the cost of salvation.”
As I’ve watched people come into the fold of our little Spanish branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brigham City — and watched others leave to return to their former ways — I’ve decided we life-long members of the LDS Church “constantly underestimate the cost" of conversion.
We’re excited to see people join us, but we seldom appreciate the price that those people had to pay. For many, the price of admission involves friendships, family, security and much more.
Religious conversions, like the birth of babies, happen so often we can become a bit jaded to the anguish they entail.
Evangelism runs deep in the American grain. We probably have a thousand churches in our midst, and almost all of them are actively looking for followers.
Americans themselves, at times, seem to move from faith to faith the way they move from state to state. Choosing a faith can appear to be like choosing a home or joining a club.
But, as Terryl and Fiona Givens point out in their book, “The God Who Weeps,” becoming a believer in a religion is not about picking a path. It is about uncovering our true nature.
The call to faith, they write, “is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we ‘get it right.’ It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us to fully reveal who we are, what we love and what we most devoutly desire.”
In other words, when the Apostle Paul converted to Christianity, he wasn’t “transformed” from a cruel scoundrel to a spokesman for love. What happened was he peeled off the disguise he was wearing and discovered the person he had really been all along. But shedding those trappings must have been harrowing. Sometimes a rebirth can be as wrenching as a natural one.
When lifelong members of the LDS Church see others find themselves, we rejoice.
But those of us who’ve never been through the fire can never really fathom the cost.
I once asked the late Maya Angelou how much “steel” it took for her to go from being a madam in a brothel to being a woman who prayed for presidents.
“Oh, steel is much to supple a substance for that,” she said.
We constantly underestimate the cost of conversion.
Remembering that, of course, doesn’t have to tinge our rejoicing with melancholy. But it should make the moment more sobering and profound.
Switching faiths can be traumatic, filled with tension, tears, fears and a feeling of great loss over what was left behind. And for those of us who’ve never had to do it, keeping that in mind can turn what seems commonplace into a unique moment of noble struggle and sacrifice.
A leap of faith is more than a mere skip across a ditch.
It is often a jump across the Grand Canyon.
And those who are willing to make it should be celebrated, not only for the choice they have made but also for the courage and force of will they’ve shown to do it.