Elder Neal A. Maxwell called it "The ebb and flow of faith" and spoke of it in an Ensign article that has helped me with a lot of questions and concerns that I have had lately.
I have watched close personal friends go through the ebb and flow of faith and I, like Elder Maxwell, have wondered about the underlying causes. What happened? I won't deny my own ups and downs, but it's hard for me to understand those who drift so far as to compromise the things that matter most.
Elder Maxwell has explained:
A verse in the Book of Mormon offers the most satisfactory explanation. It is an interrogative in Mosiah 5:13:
“For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?”
This describes what usually happens: otherwise basically decent people simply get caught up with the cares of the world. If instead of drawing closer to the Master we become a stranger to Him, then we have lost our way. The decent people to whom this happens haven’t engaged in major transgression, as a rule, but they have distanced themselves from the Savior, and He has become a stranger to them.
If, on the other hand, we really are drawing closer to Jesus and we are becoming, however incrementally, more like Him, then we are progressing. To use another Book of Mormon phrase, we must be “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict” (Mosiah 3:19). Whenever our wills are increasingly subsumed by His—the Book of Mormon calls it “swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7)—then we really are on the road to discipleship. But that can’t happen with the sort of superficiality with which some approach discipleship.I don't think we mean to approach our discipleship superficially... like maybe we've just never considered how deeply engaged we actually are and HAVE to be; we lack a truly self aware commitment. And so it's easy to "get caught up with the cares of the world." I also think the battle between the desires of our spirit and the weakness of our flesh (as described in Romans 7 and in my post on reconciliation) makes it difficult to understand the process of committing our will to Christ and we put too much responsibility on ourselves rather than choosing to excise faith in Him.
I don't doubt that those I have watched slip away loved the Lord. In fact, I believe that they still do love him, deeply and sincerely. But I wonder if they trust him... and if they are willing to do what he wants irregardless of what they want.
I wonder the same thing about myself sometimes... but at the same time, I don't wonder. Because I have experienced remarkable things in my life - and Christ has blessed me with the strength to give up something that I wanted more than anything else...EXCEPT to do His will - and that is proof to me that when I commit to him, I can do all things. Even the hardest things.