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COVID-19 Vaccination as an Abrahamic Test

For those who have never had any serious reservations with conventional medicine or the prevailing public health pandemic response, prophetic encouragement to get vaccinated for COVID-19 seems obvious, non-controversial—even a no-brainer. But for those who have honest questions about our mainstream approaches to preserving healing and protecting against disease, following this counsel can feel terrifying—and go against everything they believe.

For the many Latter-day Saints with innate confidence in our modern medical system—from their local physician to Dr. Anthony Fauci and the FDA or CDC—continuing, strong encouragement from President Russell M. Nelson and the First Presidency to get vaccinated for COVID-19 has not been difficult at all. After all, this is the same system they trust with critical assistance in all their health matters.  

But what of the Latter-day Saints who—for whatever reason—see reason for serious concern with mainstream medicine and its approaches to health, generally? Or how about the many who have questioned the wisdom of prevailing public health policies in response to the pandemic?  And don’t forget those who have experienced trauma or hostility of any kind—tragically common in our darkening world—and who understandably bristle at any institution applying pressure as to what people should do with their body? For any of these Saints, their experience of hearing strong encouragement to be vaccinated from prophet leaders they love and trust has been uniquely challenging. In many cases, this has prompted an acute trial of faith—even, in some cases, the hardest of their lives. 

Over the last week, I’ve spoken to several of these brothers and sisters directly—neighbors, family members, and other associates. After feeling touched by these glimpses of their experiences, I knew I had to help others know what had happened to them. In a media environment where personal stories of tragedy are being used to stoke up frustration (on all sides of virtually every issue), I anticipate these accounts will have an opposite, softening effect.   

For those feeling frustrated and scared – whatever your perspective may be – I hope these stories might help you in some way.  Heaven knows all the hardness and animosity is taking its toll on all of us. Although the accounts have been edited somewhat from original interviews, they are largely presented verbatim—shared together as a progression of accounts in a way that highlights common themes … starting with the aching, honest struggle these people had with the counsel they had been given. 

How can this be asked of us? All the individuals interviewed held serious concerns about the vaccine from early on in the pandemic. Mandi said, “I consider myself pretty anti-vaccine in general. I’d had several friends who have been vaccine-injured, and I’d done lots of personal research.” Joycelyn said, “We haven’t got our kids vaccinated because our first son had an adverse reaction, and we didn’t feel they were right. We haven’t done it since.” Jen likewise said, “I’ve been wary about vaccines since before my children were born. I studied a lot about them. There’s never been a question about just going along with it.”

“I was resolved my life could be different from here on out. I could have major health problems. I could die. But if that’s His will, that’s okay.”

By comparison, the virus was not the biggest worry for virtually any of them. For instance, Mandi said, “I also wasn’t really worried about COVID. We’ve got lots of tools to build our immune system and protect us against it if it comes our way, so it isn’t a stressor to me or our family.” She continued, “When the prophet’s statement came out [encouraging COVID-19 vaccination], I was thinking, ‘The Church must be getting pressure from government agencies for members to get the vaccine.’” Joycelyn related, “When I first read the latest letter, I broke down crying, with all sorts of negative thoughts going through my head. ‘Maybe the prophet is being led astray. I want to be obedient, but I don’t know if I can stay in this Church.’ The thoughts coming to my mind scared me.”

Even so, Joycelyn continued, “I’m very obedient. I want to follow the teachings exactly. When we were asked to wear masks, I did it, even though I experienced great inner turmoil in doing so (which she later realized was a PTSD reaction from earlier trauma). But I kept trying to wear the mask.” Consistently, “We prayed about the vaccine when people first talked about it,” Jocelyn said, “and every time it’s been ‘no.’ We felt like it wasn’t a good thing, and we shouldn’t get it. It was even a ‘no’ the first time the prophet showed his support and encouraged the Saints to get vaccinated.”

Compared to those with ready confidence in medicine and doctors, then, a unique spiritual struggle emerged for each of these brothers and sisters. Jen summarized well what many had felt: 

I’ve always been super conservative and all of my standards have mirrored the Church’s standards. I’ve never been on the other side of the prophet. When the prophet said “take out your double earrings” it was nothing to me. The whole back-and-forth over baptisms and LGBT+ couples, and medical marijuana, didn’t worry me. I understood the principle behind the policy. My entire life, I’ve never questioned or doubted. This is the first time where when the prophet spoke I was filled with dread as soon as he did.  

Despite all this, the repeated and urgent nature of the prophet’s counsel gave each one of them serious pause. And because of their love and trust in the prophet, and their desire to sustain him, their spiritual deliberations about the vaccine went deeper.   

Well, we better take this counsel more seriously. Mandi recounts grappling over the directness of the new statement from the First Presidency. “That gnawed at me for a few weeks and I realized I hadn’t gone to God to ask about the vaccine. I was a little afraid. What if he tells me to get it? I don’t want to get it. Over the course of a week, I prayed about it.” 

After seeing the prophet’s counsel reiterated in a subsequent letter and letting those negative initial thoughts pass, Joycelyn said, “I felt like I needed to give my body a chance to rest and then turn to the scriptures.” Compared with the previous conversations she had with her husband John, she remembered thinking, “This letter feels different, the word urge feels like a warning. Is the prophet trying to warn us of something that is coming?”

What was right for her family still didn’t seem clear to Joycelyn, however, and she felt prompted to talk to a neighbor in the ward, who didn’t pressure her but shared scriptures and quotes that helped her feel more grounded. Yet, even so, she said,  “When I prayed about the vaccine, I still felt like I wasn’t supposed to get it. I felt like I had a peace about not getting it.  But that peace was fleeting—leaving me always wondering if I was doing the right thing.”

Jocelyn continued, “As I was explaining to my neighbor about the peace I felt about not getting vaccinated, I had an experience where on the tip of my tongue as I was telling her, ‘I’m not supposed to get it,’ and in my heart, I knew those words weren’t true. There was dissonance in my heart.”

“At that point,” Joycelyn said, “I knew I had more work to do. I knew I needed to get more revelation from a humbler point of view. So the next day we got up and read our scriptures after asking for more guidance. We turned to Doctrine & Covenants 29, where it describes Christ as our advocate and how the elect will ‘hear my voice, and harden not their hearts.’” Then they read the verses where the Lord said, “by the power of my spirit, I created them—all things spiritually”:  

Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal … Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.

“That’s when I felt,” Jocelyn said, ‘The Lord wants you to do this, and it’s a spiritual thing, not a temporal thing.’” Her husband John added, “I received my answer at that point. The Spirit told me, ‘This is what you’re supposed to do. It’s a spiritual thing. Heavenly Father is asking you to do this, and you just need to obey.’”

Receiving an unexpected answer. After mentioning her shock at reading the prophet’s urging to get the vaccine, Jen continued, “I started to think about the Abrahamic test. I remember in a religion class at BYU one of my teachers said, ‘All of us will one day go through an Abrahamic test.’”

She reflected, “With Abraham, he heard a voice to sacrifice his son—his only son. I’ve lost a son. There is nothing worse than losing a child”—continuing: “I imagine that as Abraham walked up that mountain, he knew he was going to do it, but he was agonizing. That’s kind of where I was. … I had no idea why the prophet was asking me to get the vaccine, but I was sick about it.  And it felt like a life and death situation to me, too. Not the same as Abraham, but similar, and it went counter to everything I believe.”

Intrigued by this thought, Jen started reading articles on submission and yielding to the will of God, turning especially to talks by “her favorites,” Elder Holland and Elder Maxwell. In the wake of doing that, she recounts the following:

There was a day when I was standing at the kitchen sink just sick about the idea of getting vaccinated, and then it occurred to me that I could just do it. I had never gone there before and I completely calmed down. There was peace all the way through me and I thought, “I can do it.” 

The next day, however, Jen woke up “feeling sick again” and spent another tumultuous week grappling and fighting her doubts. After a teary phone call with her sister, who had faced similar grappling just weeks before, Jen got off the phone and said, “I’m just going to do it.”

“And I felt the peace again.” 

“As soon as I decided I was going to act on it,” Jen said, “I felt completely calm.” But not because she was convinced the vaccine would definitely help her body (and not hurt her). She and these other interviewees weren’t sure of that at all. In fact, each one of them held honest concerns that untoward effects might still take place.  

Describing her own prayers, Mandi described through tears a little of what was shared in her own heart-to-heart conversations, “You know, God, you have my heart. You have my will. I want to do what you want me to do. You know how I feel about vaccines, but I really want you to strip away my own prejudices and my own perceptions and ideas.”

She continued, “I really thought about that part from Moroni’s promise: ‘pray with real intent.’ What does it mean to pray with ‘real intent,’ versus ‘no intent?’ Intent means you intend to do what He instructs you to do, even if it’s hard.” 

“So, I just asked him, ‘Do you want me to get this vaccine? I know I have the choice—it’s my agency.  But is it right for me? Do you want me to get it? What is your will?’” 

“As I prayed more, I started to feel more peace. I got a yes that I should do it. I said, ‘Are you sure? Am I hearing that right, feeling that right?’ And I felt ‘yes’ again. It was a faint yes, which meant it just took so much faith to trust that small little yes. 

So, then I was like, “Did I hear that right … because I don’t want to get it.” There was so much prayer over the next few days.  The feeling I got was “yes, trust what you’re feeling.” Mandi added, “I have autoimmune conditions, so I was really worried about complications from the vaccine or reactions—and I talked to God about that too … and felt peace.”

Even if this hurts me, I’m going to do it. Although that peace provided reassurance, for most, once again, it did not mean they believed nothing bad could happen. Moving forward based on the tangible peace she had felt, Jocelyn described the courage it still took to show up at the vaccine clinic: “I was resolved my life could be different from here on out. I could have major health problems. I could die. But if that’s His will, that’s okay.” She added, “I have consecrated my life to Heavenly Father. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. If I die, if I get really sick, that’s His will—part of His plan. And I’m going to be okay with it. I had to get to that point to really mean it, to say it, to act on it.”

Her husband John acknowledged that while it seems a “simple thing to go get a shot,” it wasn’t so simple before that feeling of peace came—referring back to his recognition before getting the shot that “this could bring to pass all sorts of other rippling effects—hearts getting inflamed and swollen—as I’ve heard happening to younger people in their 20s and 30s.” 

Even though the peace she had felt initially continued, Jen said, “I cried on the way to the appointment. I wondered what could happen to my body.  What am I putting into my body?” 

Mandi said, “On the way to get it, I was singing ‘I Walk by Faith’ over and over. I feel like in a lot of things in my life I’ve had to offer my will, to sacrifice my will again and again—infertility, adoption, lots of things. This is about continually offering up my heart and will to God. That’s all I can give him.” Channeling Elder Maxwell, she said, “Everything else is already his, but that’s the one thing I can give him.”

Mandi continued, “The process of going to get the shot felt peaceful, too.” Joycelyn recounted the day of her own appointment, “It felt surreal going to get the vaccine—like I couldn’t believe it. But I knew we were supposed to do it. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. We’ve had to do hard things. But that’s an answer I can draw on. We said a prayer before we went in and I remember Heavenly Father giving me peace right before we went in.”

Jen admitted, “I was angry while I was there, but afterward I was fine.” John also said, “I was a little angry about it as I was getting it—not about the prophet, but more politically-oriented. I got it because I felt it was right, but I don’t think a government official should say ‘you have to do that.’ They don’t have the authority to do that. They’re going against what the constitution says. They’re taking away people’s agency. And no one is standing up for our rights or the rights of our children.” 

[All got Pfizer, although one would have preferred Johnson & Johnson if he could have found it. One admitted avoiding Moderna due to anti-Fauci sentiment. One said, “Hey, I’ve heard bad things about all of them, so I guess it doesn’t matter!” One had few if any effects. Several had “super sore” arms. One had chills the next morning after the second, and another had a migraine and was pretty sick the whole day. One was scheduled for the second later this week. One sister had heart palpitationsher heart was beating hardbut she wasn’t sure whether that was related to a thyroid problem or to the shot]. 

Changes inside.  All of them spoke about this being a “strengthening” experience for their faith. Joycelyn reflected how different it feels to talk about sacrificing and say, “I’ll do whatever the Lord asks,” and then to “actually do it—to actually go through the process of submitting myself to something that goes against everything I believe.”  

She said, “It really strengthened me. I’m not just talking the talk, I’m walking the walk. It was important for me to go through.”  Mandi spoke of another type of peace that had come to her:

All the mandates feel really scary and oppressive. But when you choose to get the vaccine, it totally shifts the energy because you’ve chosen to do something, and you’re not forced. So it’s not so scary. It takes away the fear of the unknown—all the stuff about “what are they going to do to us? what’s going to happen?” All that fear has been totally washed away. Fear of losing jobs, not being able to fly again—that was an unexpected burden lifted.

“Sure, who wouldn’t be relieved not to face the growing hostility towards the unvaccinated,” some might add, but the peace these Saints felt went beyond just a reduction in external tension. Other, deeper shifts were also clear. Jen said, “I do feel better. I’m no longer agitated in my mind.” After making her decision, Joycelyn said, “I felt layers upon layers of hardness on my heart peel off. I could just feel it come off my heart. I didn’t even know that hardness had been there.” 

Compared to her earlier fleeting peace, Joycelyn added, “When we got this peace, we got this peace that was constant. It didn’t go away. And we still have it.” She reflected further, “I felt like for quite a while I’d been hitting a wall spiritually and I didn’t know why. I felt like this was Heavenly Father trying to get me to a better place.”

What about others who haven’t received this peace? Does that mean everyone unable to feel peace about being vaccinated for COVID-19 simply hasn’t humbled themselves enough or exercised enough faith? “Not at all,” Joycelyn said, cautioning against that conclusion. 

“Everyone could get a different answer for a different reason,” she said, pointing out that “someone might have an adverse reaction and be warned not to.” Jocelyn recounted, “I shared my experience with my sister and she told me she could feel the spirit quite strongly as she listened. She has done the same seeking for herself, but she really feels like she is not supposed to get it. She’s had all sorts of health problems—autoimmune disorders …”

Many others, of course, have reported similar experiences. One brother wrote online, “I have prayed, fasted, cried, prayed, fasted, cried multiple times and I still don’t feel at peace about getting the vaccine.” After acknowledging the many who have felt able to feel comfortable about getting the vaccine after hearing the prophet’s counsel, this man added “and I’m over here like, ‘Heavenly Father, I’ve tried my hardest to humble myself, I’ve tried my hardest to get an answer why would you be telling all of these other people to get it and not be telling me?’”

Another person shared the following story about her faithful mother:

When the prophet urged us to get vaccinated,  my mother, age 79, fasted and prayed about it.  She was told “No.” As COVID continued to rise,  I urged her to get the vaccine.  My sisters urged her, too. Again, she fasted and prayed and the answer she felt remained the same. A couple of months went by and again we urged our mom to get vaccinated. She fasted and prayed for the third time. Her answer was again no.  Six months later my mother contacted COVID-19.  After 10 days she contracted pneumonia. Just before her pneumonia diagnosis,  she and I spoke on the phone.  She cried,  she wondered why Heavenly Father would tell her no three times. She was very sick.  At that moment, I knew the answertelling my mother that Heavenly Father knew about her health.  She needed to have a heart valve replacement, which had only recently been diagnosed.  I suggested to her that Heavenly Father knew that a small percentage of people developed blood clots from the vaccine and also COVID.  He protected her from the possibility of getting a blood clot and taking her life too soon. It has been two weeks and my mother is nearly healed. She is rebounding fully and quickly. 

This person continued:

I told my mother on her worst day, “thank you for being obedient to our Heavenly Father.”  At that moment my mother finally felt relieved. My family members have put a lot of pressure on our mom to get vaccinated.  Even while she was sick,  one person asked why she wasn’t following the prophet. Then my mom, being weak, felt that she was being beaten up by family members because they were chastising her for not getting vaccinated. 

Even with their own surprising experiences, these brothers and sisters were insistent that others could feel different promptings and assurance, and they advocated for showing respect to what God was leading each person to do. After speaking about the power and importance of getting her own personal confirmation, Joycelyn said, “I’m pretty sure President Nelson wouldn’t say, ‘Just take my word for it.’” 

One man who felt peace about getting the vaccine described the response from his wife who had not felt that same confirmation: “I respect that you’re doing what you feel guided to do.” He likewise told her, “You have sought out and got a different answer, and I respect that.”  This brother added:

It’s an individual decision. I disagree with those who say, “The prophet has told you to get vaccinated, so what’s your problem?” The prophet recommended—strongly encouraged. It remains an individual’s right to receive personal inspiration on what to do. The prophet would never force. He’s not Biden. 

Another kind of test. For those who find prophetic counsel about the vaccine easy to follow, there clearly seems to be another kind of spiritual test emerging in their own life….centered around how to respond to those who don’t share either their ease or their answer.  Given the ease with which they align with medical and public health orthodoxy, these people might feel sorely tempted to condemn any such resistance as a simple reflection of “faithlessness” or “ignorance.” Can’t you just trust “the science”?  Can’t you just trust the prophet? 

Without appreciating how acute of a wrestle it is for many people to trust mainstream pronouncements being made about the pandemic, they might miss the authenticity of faith- exercising and truth-seeking happeningas well as the spiritual trial this remains for so many.  

Speaking about her unvaccinated relatives, Jen admits, “They are hurting. They don’t want to be on the wrong side, they don’t want to be deceived, they don’t want to just be following their own wisdom, but it all feels so wrong to them.”

So, how are family members and leaders to respond to this? Two very different models are clear.  On one hand, a sister related, “Our stake president used the analogy of the serpent on the pole in our ward conference this last Sunday. I believe the majority of the congregation is vaxxed so he is pretty much calling out maybe two families … mine as one.” Through this pointed metaphor, she took away that this leader was telling us that “basically we do it or be destroyed. That we ‘lack faith and doubt science.’”

“I felt layers upon layers of hardness on my heart peel off. I could just feel it come off my heart. I didn’t even know that hardness had been there.”

By comparison, another sister recounted, “I had a temple recommend interview recently and I discussed some of my concerns about the Church and COVID with my stake leader. He told me that I could be sitting in the temple next to someone who felt completely differently about COVID than I did and we could both be worthy to be there. I really, really appreciated how he handled that, and wish I could see that attitude more widely reflected in the Church and world in general.”

So, which will it be?  Double down on the pressureor affirm trust in people’s capacity to receive personal confirmation from God in relation to the prophetic direction?  It’s hard to do both, since the pressure often interferes with that sacred space of receiving direction.  

Pressure as a complicating factor.  That was another interview theme that came up. Clearly, it was receiving individual peace that motivated each of these people abovenot the pressure.  In fact, it was very much despite the pressure that these brothers and sisters moved forward, often referring to family and social pressure as a complicating factor in their earlier searching.  John reflected on the earlier period, “We were getting pressured into it by community members, our parents, brothers and sisters, other people, and we wanted to say, ‘Hey, we prayed about it, so just let it be.” He remarked, “I’m not going to be the one to tell someone they have to do something. If someone’s made a choice about what’s right for their family, we just need to honor that and let it be.”

“Since the vaccine came out,” John added, “my mom was pressuring me and other members of my family to get the vaccine—even using stories of other people dying to help convince him (“See, he’s dying. Your kids are going to be alone. He didn’t get vaccinated.”) He added, “My mom hasn’t been active in the Church for a while, but as soon as the prophet’s statement came out, she threw that in everyone’s face.” 

With a smile on his face, John continued, “We haven’t even told her we got the vaccine. I don’t think we will.” 

Both Jen and Mandi mentioned that this experience had given them more empathy for others who have grappled with prophetic counsel. Jen stated, “This has been a trial for the members who are like me—conservative and more into holistic medical treatments. It makes me respect any liberal thinker who’s still a faithful Latter-day Saint. They’re on the other side often (philosophically) and they’re still here. Bless them!” Mandi likewise said, “This whole experience has given me a lot of compassion for people who have struggled with LGBT+ stuff. The Church will make a statement; they won’t understand it and will feel at odds. I’ve always had no problems with the prophet, and when that message came out it was challenging to be the one feeling that. Having to humble myself and submit myself and try to follow the prophet in a way I had not expected has given me a lot of compassion for others wrestling with other concerns and issues.”

An act of brute faith. What was most remarkable to me about these stories is that every one of these brothers and sisters had strong concerns with the vaccine, and none of them were all that worried about the virus. Consistently, their decision to move forward with the vaccination was really not due to any kind of assurance that it would help their bodies—nor, even that it was “safe and effective” against the virus. Listen to their responses on that point:  

  • “I didn’t feel my body needs this vaccine to fight COVID-19—it has nothing to do with the virus for me. It’s more about my relationship with God—and some other kind of a spiritual protection.” (Mandi)
  • “I’m far more afraid of the vaccine than the virus. I’m just going to trust the Lord. The most important thing is knowing I’m on the right side of Him. I know I will be blessed for it.” (Jen) 
  • “I have no fear of the virus, I’ve already had it. There will always be another variant. It’s just going to keep coming. I only got the shot because I felt prompted to do it after the prophet said it. If I prayed and got the opposite answer, I would have stuck with it and gone with it. I don’t care if someone tells me my prayers are wrong.” (John)
  • “For me, getting the shot was all about submission. I’m not worried about the virus. I’ve already had the Delta variant. I don’t think Heavenly Father wants me to get the shot because my body needs it….Heavenly Father has a purpose. I don’t know what it is, aside from softening my heart.” (Joycelyn)

Joycelyn reiterated, “If the prophet had not urged so strongly, we would not have gotten it.” John added, “But we prayed about it, got our answer, and followed through with it.”  

Jen likewise punctuated her comment, by saying: “If I wasn’t a member of the Church, I would lose my job [instead of getting vaccinated], I wouldn’t travel anymore, I would fight the regulations, because this goes against everything I believe. No one has the authority to tell me what to put inside my own body. I’ve always been civilly disobedient. If it’s wrong, I will always fight. But I can’t do that when it’s the prophet. It becomes a completely different thing. My perspective is not as clear or eternal as his.”

There was some speculation in the interviews as to other reasons the vaccine may be important, beyond the physical effects touted. For instance, Jen continued, “The prophet is the watchman on the tower. He sees more. He knows more. I’m just skirmishing on the ground. Maybe that’s why he offered this urging—whether that’s virus-related or persecution-related—he can see. I wonder if the Saints who don’t do it are going to go through a much harder time somehow socially.” Joycelyn added, “He might be asking because of the political war on it. Not because of snuffing out the virus.” Mandi said, “I felt like this was more about protecting myself from the persecution that will come if you’re not vaccinated, rather than protecting me from the virus.”

None of these other explanations, however, were the reason these women had been vaccinated. That was clear. That stemmed entirely from the peace they felt in prayer, which leads to one final point.

“It remains an individual’s right to receive personal inspiration on what to do. The prophet would never force. He’s not Biden.”

A caution about overdoing the pressure. Much of the impatience and pressure on the unvaccinated centers on the idea that scientific or prophetic pronouncements should make this decision so obvious.  “So, a little pressure won’t hurt, right? What’s their problem, anyway?”

Here’s the problem with that:  In the absence of peace—an uncoerced affirmation from one’s own conscience—we could end up making life a lot more complicated for precious brothers and sisters…in at least two ways, both of which think we should see as serious:  

  1. Inadvertent physical consequences. I believe there are some who may experience adverse effects if they override or ignore their own internal compass—internal signals telling them (for whatever reason) that the vaccine isn’t a good decision for their body. We often hear that these adverse effects are minuscule and difficult to connect to the vaccine, and yet there is growing evidence confirming that the scope of adverse effects is not made-up paranoia. This includes different vaccine injuries, and sometimes tragically, a direct loss of life. That’s where the protection of the Holy Spirit in giving individualized direction is so crucial.   
  2. The possibility of anger and estrangement. In cases where people take the vaccine just because they felt the prophet’s words required it (no matter how they felt inside), this kind of a serious adverse effect may be especially hard to process. Compared to those who felt God’s confirming assurance in their own hearts, these people are more likely to feel significant frustration towards those who strongly encouraged this course of action. One woman who experienced MS symptoms (shaking, spasms) following the vaccination, for instance, voiced frustration because she had proceeded thinking the prophet had “commanded” it.  

The point here is not to overstate these risks—but moreso, to note that each of these might be avoided through appreciating the centrality of (and not sidelining through over-pressure and fear) the individualized guidance of the Holy Ghost—a magnificent being who both reassures and protects.  If someone who is hesitant ends up getting the vaccine simply out of pressure, you also potentially rob them of the rich inner experience many of these people above describe. Had that been the reason these people above decided to get vaccinated, it’s not hard to imagine they would have ended up even more mad…with none of the peace and growth they otherwise could have found.   

There is no guarantee, of course, that people who felt peaceful and good about the vaccine won’t experience some negative effects as well. And whatever rippling effects do come (including those described above), are all workable through the comfort and power of the Lord. But there’s no question that people will feel more of a spiritual foundation for weathering these difficulties if and when they do come, if they proceed based on (a) authentic choice and (b) personal assurance from God, in relation to personal application of prophetic counsel. 

Bottom line: don’t push so hard that you invade the sacred space where we all each get to work out our own salvation and follow the dictates of our own conscience.    

Peace, peace, peace. “Follow the peace” the Buddha once taught. To those who would judge the peace these brothers and sisters felt as simply a reflection of being relieved not to face societal pressure, I would push back strongly. The peace these people have found is real—and cannot be written off.  It permeated the interviews—and my time in their presence.  

I take that peace as a reflection of their consecration, faith, and alignment with God’s will. As Jocelyn noted earlier, this wasn’t just a physical thing.  It wasn’t just about getting the vaccine, or even simply about following the prophet. After praying with humility and sincerity over that counsel, this was also about coming into alignment with what God specifically confirmed as His will in each of their lives.  

What if that individual intuition, personal conscience, and inner wisdom were allowed to be the foundation of our public deliberation about our ongoing pandemic response? What if we could appreciate the profound opportunities for spiritual growth happening inside each of us—and for people on both sides of this question? 

We’ve microscoped in on the trial of faith for those who feel prompted to take the vaccine, contrary to their biases and prejudices. What about the trial of faith for someone—like the grandmother above—who seeks the Lord’s will with sincere faith, but is led not to take the vaccine? By many measures, that trial of faith may be even greater than the experiences described above.  

Therefore, you might ask yourself as a little test:  Do you have faith to take the vaccine, even if your bias is against it, if the Spirit gives you peace to proceed?  And do you have faith to not take the vaccine if you feel so guided by the same Spirit, even if you are going to get some push-back from those around you? 

As a final note, if you find yourself fixated on this issue and grappling in your heart with frustration towards brothers and sisters, or even the prophets themselves, please take a moment to remember the full range of things Latter-day prophets have been sharing with the world  (here’s one summary we put together, Prophets on Pandemic). It’s beautiful—and I’m confident, the most hopeful message anywhere in the world. Don’t let that gloominess or hardness ruin this upcoming conference weekend! Heaven (literally) knows we all need some uplift and rejuvenation!  So, please don’t let yourself go into the weekend looking for more reasons to be frustrated. God wants more for you, and all of us. 

In the end, let’s treat each other like the children of God we all are:  Seeing our brother who follows their conscience not to vaccinate…well, like a brother.  And regarding our sister who feels peace to take the vaccine also…like a sister. Whatever our differences about public health policy or appropriate pandemic response—and whatever our lingering fears and frustrations—may we reach across to each other as the human family we surely still are … yes, even during a pandemic.

About the author

Jacob Z. Hess

Jacob Hess is a contributing editor at Deseret News and publishes longer-form pieces at PublishPeace.net. He co-authored "You're Not as Crazy as I Thought, But You're Still Wrong" and “The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints.” He has a Ph.D. in clinical-community psychology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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