Know the Doctrine, Purpose of Commandments: Part 4

Christ said that if any one “will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17). This is my favorite reason, my purpose, for keeping commandments, because there is a connection between learning and doing. Somethings you can learn theoretically or intellectually through study, but to know the nuances, details, and further implications, you have to do it. See it in action. Black and white becomes blazing technicolor when you live it.

The health code that I’ve mentioned before in parts 2 and 3 of this series is about how to take care of your physical body. While the Lord does promise physical health, He did not title it a health code. He called it a “word of wisdom” and among His promises of health are also promises of “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge” (D&C 89:19).

In Doctrine and Covenants section 130, verses 20-21 read: 

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessings from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.  

But the verses 18-19, immediately preceding those oft quoted verses about obedience, say: 

Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.   

This has made me wonder, what if the blessing is the knowledge? What if each commandment is linked to a doctrine and by living that commandment you are gaining knowledge of that doctrine? 

 I do not think the Lord is merely testing our ability to form habits. Commandments are not arbitrary; they have a purpose. They are expressions of love for each other, for God, and they prepare us to live with Him again. We are ready for the kingdom of God when we can love as He loves, do as he does, and know what He knows.

Commandments are how we bring doctrines to life. We see them in full-scale technicolor reality and thereby learn things we could have never realized without living them.

I have done this, so far, in two ways. First, by learning a doctrine in the scriptures that I wanted to use in my life and then purposefully living the commandment that could best bring it into my life. Second, by living the commandment and openly asking God to teach me how to do it better and why I’m doing it. 

For the first example, when I prayed about my mother’s breast cancer, I wanted to know the will of God, if she would be healed or not. The full story is here and here, but essentially I learned in an Institute lesson that the Father-child relationship we share with God means that when we pray we can be united with Him and our wills aligned as one. My Institute teacher used Enos as an example and I went home and followed that example as best I could. I prayed with greater consistency than ever before and with more purpose and sensitivity. In the end, I learned the doctrine about my connection to God, His love for me, His awareness of me, and His willingness to teach and show me His will such that I would love it and accept it as my own. This doctrine is no longer a story in the scriptures for me—it is my own story and it is a part of my foundation.

Many years after this, my step-father was undergoing a surgery that had him feeling very scared. I was living too far away to go home to help him, but I wanted to help, and I wanted to be there for him however I could. I thought of fasting and the promises of fasting in the scriptures, but, to be honest, I hated fasting. I would often have blood sugar problems that left me feeling faint, and it felt like torture. I simply never understood how torturing myself would please God and earn me blessings. I wanted to fast for my step-father, and I asked Heavenly Father to teach me how to do it correctly and to help me understand why the heck I’m even doing it and how it works. 

As I went through that day, focused on my fast, on my step-father, and the Spirit helping me understand it, I learned about the connection between the physical and the spiritual. The weaknesses that they each have at times but how they can work together to strengthen the other. I learned to love fasting because I loved my spirit and my body in a new way because they were connected in a new way. The doctrine of our temple bodies is not an abstract idea any longer. For me, it is reality and it is another stone in my foundation. 

Commandments as a list of “to-do’s” leaves me overwhelmed. Commandments as a list of “should’s” and “should not’s” leads to a binding perfectionism in which I will inevitably fall short and then berate myself. Commandments as learning tools helps me stay in a growth mindset. I see myself as a growing thing—not a broken one, not a weak one, not a stupid one. If something is too hard, I’m not there yet, but given time and a little more experience, I will be. I can keep learning “line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12) and trust God when He says I do not have to run faster than I am able (D&C 10:4). 

We are all learning something. We learn at different rates, we learn things in a different order. We have various experiences and our lessons will be tailored to us personally. There are somethings that I will never know as well as someone else who has lived another life than me. Learning from one another is yet one more way to keep us united. Sharing with each other the hard things to help them become easy.

The full scripture my mother quoted to me in that hallway when I was 13 reads like this:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30, emphasis added

Life is hard. Learning is hard. But with the right teacher and a good study group, the possibilities are endless.

Blessed with His Presence, Purpose of Commandments: Part 3

Perhaps the most popular scripture on obedience in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes from the Doctrine and Covenants. In section 130, Joseph Smith wrote down some instructions and revelations he had received, including this description of the relationship between laws and blessings: there is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. 

I believe this is true. Our world runs with cause and effect, consequences are linked to actions. And yet, there are often causes we do not recognize as such, consequences we did not predict. As with all scriptures, we must use this one in its proper context and not get too wrapped up in assumptions and traditions. I fear that this scripture has caused a mindset that we can get the blessing we’re looking for by living the right commandment. I have a major problem with this. First, I find that it tends to generate an idea of God that is more akin to a vending machine than a Father and obedience as a way to earn tokens to said machine. Also, it seems to me that you are then only motivated to keep the commandments that have the right pay out. It’s like saying, “If you want to get more money, then pay tithing. If you’re rich and you don’t need financial blessings, don’t bother. That’s not the blessing you’re looking for so you don’t need to keep that one.”

The major fault with this logic is that it doesn’t correspond with the way God promises blessings. In D&C section 59 verse 16, the Lord promises that if you keep the Sabbath Day holy “the fulness of the earth is yours.” That is seriously broad. And for tithing, the Lord promises in Malachi chapter 3 that he “will open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Just because testimony meetings tend to emphasize financial blessings from tithing doesn’t mean the Lord limits himself that way. You could get anything from heaven—those windows are pretty big. 

Even when it’s spelled out and the commandment and blessing seem to coincide rather well, it’s no guarantee. The Word of Wisdom (a health code I spoke about in my previous post) promises that the keeper of this code “will receive health…shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” It looks pretty obvious that the Lord is telling you how to take care of your body and if you do it, you will have a strong and healthy body. My mother kept this code and died of breast cancer. I have always kept this code, and I hate running. I get very weary. 

What exactly are we getting here? If I can’t count on getting the blessings I want, why do the commandments matter?

The Lord promises multiple times that if you keep his commandments you will “prosper.” The trick is, that the Lord sometimes has different definitions for words than we do because He sees things from a different perspective. To us, a prosperous individual has a nice house, new cars, maybe a boat, definitely lots of money. But if you think that rich people are more blessed than poor people, you have some reading to do in the New Testament. 

My favorite definition from the Lord for the word “prosper” is in 2nd Nephi chapter 1 verse 20: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence. This sentence creates parallel opposites. You can see the definition of the first through the definition of its opposite. Being cut off from the presence of the Lord is the opposite of prospering, thus to prosper is to have his presence. 

Prospering ultimately means to be successful. The Lord doesn’t measure success through riches because those have no value in the eternities. His goal is to have us with Him, thus we are successful when He is here with us. With His presence, we know how to use our resources to maximum benefit, we grow and develop our talents, we love and receive love.

What do we get when we keep the commandments? The presence of God.

Christ told his disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Now, there have been times when I have read this and thought, wow, that’s a bit manipulative; he’ll only be my friend if I  do whatever he says? But as I reflected on the times when I felt the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness—I know that these are the qualities of a true friend. 

Think of your closest friends. Why are you friends? Do you have a lot in common? Do you enjoy doing the same things and have fun together? I think friendship with Christ works in a very similar way. He has his hobbies and interests—they include learning from his Father, serving others, and spreading joy. The commandments are in many ways descriptions of how he lives his life. Keeping them is how you spend time with your friend. 

He wants to share our interests too—he’s interested in our work, our family, how we’re feeling, if we’re hurt or scared. There are those things that he is not interested in—hurting other people, gossiping, backbiting—and if we’re doing those he just won’t stick around for them. Anytime we want to be with him and do his things, we can. Anytime we want to invite him to an activity we think he might like, we can. 

This is seeking the Spirit. Paying attention to determine whether or not something is bringing you peace and joy. It could be walking in nature, praying, meditating, volunteering in the soup kitchen, connecting with family and friends. When you find those things, you’ve found your commandments. The presence of God will bring innumerable blessings personalized for you because you are His friend. 

Purpose of Commandments, part 2: Protection

In just about every lesson and sermon I’ve heard about the purpose of commandments, there is always the mention of protection. We are protected by the commandments. If we live them our lives are easier, we are blessed with peace and kept from pain and heartache that comes from unrighteous living.

There is much about that statement that is true. And yet, life is still hard. There will always be heartache and difficulty. Even when you are obedient, you are affected by the choices of others and the simple chaos and struggle of life. So, what exactly are we protecting ourselves from? Yeah, I’m not dumb enough to go looking for trouble, but am I really meant to live my life in fear? If the fruits of the Spirit are peace and comfort, and fear is the antithesis of faith, would the Spirit teach me righteousness with fear?

When I think of the commandments that have protected me, the first to come to mind is the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Wisdom is a health code that prohibits alcohol, tobacco, and non-medicinal drugs. Living this way my entire life means I have never had a drink of alcohol, never smoked a cigarette or anything stronger, never even had a drink of coffee. There are those that think I’m missing out on something in life, but when I weigh what they are promising with the very real threat of alcoholism, I think I’ve come out on top. I know from several family members the hardships that come with addiction, and I have been affected by alcoholism from a very young age. Because of this, I have always had a fear of alcohol—a fear of becoming an alcoholic and of those who drink. This commandment eased a fear that was already there, and I have lived my life with incredible peace.

Near the beginning of the revelation that outlines the Word of Wisdom, the Lord says it is “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints who are or can be called saints.” I see in this a sort of group protection for those of us that are weak in our tendencies to become addicted. I don’t actually know if I would become an alcoholic, but I’m afraid of it. My church community gives me safety so I don’t have to know the answer to that question; I can live a life completely free of addiction. There are those in my faith that can drink alcohol without becoming addicted. We don’t necessarily know who they are, because we haven’t tested it. As a weaker saint, I thank the stronger ones for giving up alcohol so that I do not need to feel pressured or weak. I can simply put it away and think on other things.

Surprisingly, my friends in college were able to do a similar thing. My friends would drink from time to time, perhaps having beer or wine at dinners or parties. Always considerate of me and wanting me to be comfortable, they made sure there were other options available. Sometimes this was including a non-alcoholic beverage, other times it was a way for me to leave should I become uncomfortable. If I went to a party being held by a friend, I always went early before people were particularly drunk and left early. I rarely left alone. They would drink less or not at all if it was a smaller party and they wanted me to be there and fully comfortable. They were always considerate of my choice in whether or not I would attend a party and made sure that I did so safely. In a very different type of community, I still felt protected.

Ultimately, I think the commandments help us protect each other. When we love one another, we care for one another’s fears and we seek to alleviate them. That is the work and fruit of the Spirit. 

Sometimes, when we teach a commandment from a protection perspective, we use fear instead of a voice of warning. Those we are attempting to teach feel threatened or belittled. The difference between fearmongering and warning is love. I could have preached the Word of Wisdom to my friends and refused to be with them unless they lived as I did, but that is manipulative rather than friendly. If they had not cared for my feelings, then I would have known they were not my friends, and I would not have trusted them and would instead have looked elsewhere. But they were always considerate of me. I like to think that they knew I would always help them too. I didn’t need to use fear, I just loved them. They came up with their own “commandments” to keep me safe and I kept mine. Protect the relationship first and it will endure even when commandments are broken, warnings not heeded, fears realized. When there is love and a desire to build trust, the commandments you must follow will become very clear. 

The doctrine behind all commandments is that God loves his children and is prepared to help and heal at all times. The price is paid. He’s not going to get mad at you for cashing in and using the help He’s ready to bestow. Please, don’t think of God as mean and manipulative. The more you know Him, the more you will hear the voice of warning instead of the threatening thunder.

In the meantime, think about how your actions are affecting those around you. Is there someone you’re hurting that you can protect by keeping a commandment? That person could be yourself. We all want to protect those we love, and God is no different. 

Hard or Easy, Purpose of Commandments, part 1

When I was 13, my mother married my stepfather. It was strange in many ways to be moving into his house, to have this other person with his own stuff, his own history, be a part of our family. We were uniting our households by combining our furniture and decorations, sorting through what to keep, what to throw out, what to buy anew. We were also learning from one another in a new way due to our now close quarters.

In the hallway of my stepfather’s house there was a cross-stitch of the Savior’s face next to a quote that read, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” One day, as we were moving in, I stood there in the hallway pondering that and really feeling that message. I thought, it’s so true. The gospel can be so hard, but it’ll be worth it. Just keep pushing. My mother then came down the hallway saw what I was reading and said, “I’ve always hated that saying. You know Christ never said that. What Christ said was, ‘take my yoke upon you, for behold, my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’”

I still feel those two quotes battling it out in my mind from time to time. Something in the gospel will get really hard and I’ll keep pushing and trying, knowing a blessing will come and then I’ll stop and think, wait a minute, this is supposed to be easy. How do I make this easy?

Just like uniting households forced us to reevaluate our furnishings and our daily habits, keeping in mind these two quotes helped me reevaluate the hard things in the gospel. I ask myself why it is that I find it so hard. Am I afraid? Confused? Doing it wrong? Missing something?

While I think this can apply to all aspects of the gospel, I started this process with commandments. As a teenager, I thought it was very hard to keep track of a whole bunch of do’s and don’ts. When I became depressed as a teenager, the commandments that were supposed to help me become better were instead weapons wielded against me. These lists I gave myself, the should’s and should not’s, turned into angry voices telling me how weak I was, how I would never be good enough. Even as an adult, I am susceptible to the perfectionism that comes with trying to live the gospel and it inevitably leads to periods of depression. I feel myself torn between pushing through to keep up with what I’m supposed to do and just abandoning everything altogether. When this happens, I know it’s time to reevaluate. I need to ask myself why I’m doing this hard thing, is there a better way, what would make this easy.

As I look back and think about what has become easy, what I’m still working on, and what I’ve thrown out I find that it centers around connection. The perfectionist and depressed side of me will use perceived failures as a way to sever any connection with the people around me, the Spirit, and my sense of self. Perfectionism makes me afraid to try something with new people because I might fail and embarrass myself. Perfectionism tells me the Spirit won’t come because I have failed. Perfectionism says that I am not right, I am broken. But when I find the Spirit anyway, I know that I’m loved, I’m doing fine, people are kind and forgiving, I’m never alone.

There is truth in the saying, “it takes effort for something to become effortless.” Building connections is not necessarily easy from the get-go. The easiest thing would be to quit entirely. But quitting has only made my depressions worse and then everything gets harder. The work of building and connecting always gets easier with the smallest amount of effort. Using commandments as a way to build connections makes everything easier.

We teach a lot about the purpose of God’s commandments and the benefits of keeping them. I think we need to be careful that we not allow perfectionism to stick in its ugly head. Keeping commandments connected to their true purpose will help us build the other connections we need. Why do you follow commandments? What purpose and goal do you have that helps you do hard things?

Judas and Peter

This last week in church, we studied Acts chapters 1-5 and a large amount of our discussion was focused on Peter who becomes a valiant prophet for Christ in these chapters. As I read about Peter, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about Judas and how both men were in similar situations but reacted very differently.

Back when I was a Freshmen in college, my Institute director told us of one of his impressions about Judas. My teacher thought that Judas didn’t betray Jesus because he no longer believed, but rather because he was so desperate for Jesus to throw out the Romans and establish a literal kingdom for Israel that he tried to force a confrontation.  Until this point, when Jews tried to capture or trap Jesus, he always found a way out. They could not trap him; they could not touch him. Perhaps, Judas thought that if he forced a confrontation between Jesus and the Romans, such that his mortal life was in great peril, Jesus would finally do what Judas had been waiting for—declare himself beyond contestation and lead the oppressed Jews against the Romans. As we know, this plan did not work. Judas’ betrayal did bring about the end of Christ’s earthly mission as he finished the work the Father sent him to do, but it was not the work that Judas wanted.

Judas was not the only one that was confused about what Christ meant when he spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. In Acts 1:6 the apostles, after being with the resurrected Christ for 40 days, asked, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” They still wanted to be delivered from the Romans, to have their own nation, to be a people again.

I think this stuck with me so much this week because I have fought the will of the Lord multiple times. I have even tried to force the Lord to do my will and simply ignored His. He’s all powerful anyway, He doesn’t actually need me, right? I can do what I want to do and still get some blessings. But it’s never worked out the way I wanted it to.

I kept thinking of poor Judas. I think he did love Jesus and believed that Jesus was the Savior they had been waiting for, but he also believed he was right about what the Savior was supposed to do. His conviction was such that he was not content to watch and wait for the Savior to do his own work. Did he think fear held Jesus back? Did he think he was helping? Was he impatient? Was he fed up with being on the run and ridiculed by so many others?

Peter had this same confusion—I think it was common among the Jews at that time to believe their Savior was going to establish a kingdom of Israel and be a king, as his ancestral father David. Yet, Peter watched, waited, and listened. After Christ’s final ascension into heaven, Peter, with the apostles and other disciples, including the women, prayed, and Peter saw that even Judas’ betrayal was a part of the prophecy of Christ’s mission. The darkest and probably the hardest thing Peter had ever had to watch and suffer—the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of his beloved Master—was part of the plan. When he remembered the words that the “Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas,” Peter saw his way forward and began to become the powerhouse prophet we now know him as.

Judas never saw that. I think his devastation at seeing Christ’s crucifixion was crushing to him because he was so focused on his own plan that he wasn’t able to see God’s. I think Judas also loved Christ and seeing Jesus’ death and blaming himself for it caused his collapse. Perhaps he thought he was responsible for destroying the plans of God and that it would never be the same again.

I think this way about Judas because I’ve been in this position. I have refused to do something the Lord wanted because it wasn’t what I wanted. When my plan didn’t really work out, I realized the Lord’s plan would have been much better, but I had ruined it and there was no going back. Now, I certainly don’t want to end my life as Judas did. I’d like to live as Peter did.

The first thing I learn by comparing Judas and Peter is that you are never going to ruin God’s plan. When you fail, sit back and you will find that you’re still a part of it. God is too powerful and smart for us to mess him up.

The trick, I think, is in learning how to see God’s plan. We are all familiar with the scripture from Isaiah 55, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” When I was stuck in anger, at myself and God, this scripture seemed to mock me. In my sorrow, I thought this meant I would never know the thoughts of God, I was too stupid so I might as well stop trying. I thought it meant the Lord didn’t care about my thoughts or desires; they were too insignificant for him to bother with. But, I have seen that this is not true. I think this scripture is more of an invitation for us to express our thoughts and desires to the Lord and then, learn from him. We can’t put our motivations onto God, we have to learn how to share in his. We may be lower now, but it is not God’s intention to leave us that way. He wants us to lift our sights higher.

Peter was able to do this. He stayed with the Lord. Even after he was, I’m sure, devastated after he denied Jesus three times, Peter went back. Even when he was confused, he prayed. I don’t think he saw the full end from the beginning, but he did see the next step and he got started.

Peter and Judas illustrate a battle that has been going on since before the world was. Will we fight or even force the will of the Lord because we want our own plan, or will we look for ourselves in God’s plan and find incredible power?

Strengthen Your Voice

In 2017, about three years after my frustrations with God were healed, I was listening to a report about a question and answer session held with two apostles of the church. Among the questions submitted to the apostles by the young adults of the Church was this one, “How can I differentiate between the Holy Ghost and my own thoughts and feelings?”

Elder Oaks said in response, “This is a question we wrestle with all of our lives.”

I thought about all the times I had asked myself that same question and all the people that have asked it of me. I could not find the words to accurately describe the difference I feel between my own thoughts and the Spirit. I knew that I still wasn’t perfect at it, nor am I perfect at following a prompting even when I do know it’s from the Spirit. Anything I have been able to pin down and identify as clearly being from God has come through practice. Many attempts, simple trial and error, some successful and some regretful, have taught me to recognize the voice of the Lord.

As I thought of this, I remembered again that prayer for my mother (Will of the Father, Will of the Child, Part II) and how I was at first met with a brick wall. I remembered how stunned I had been to feel that wall and then how it had come down when I expressed my own thoughts and feelings. When I tried to quiet my own desires so I could hear the Spirit, I heard nothing. When I spoke, I could hear. 

There seems to be a broad misconception that because the Lord’s voice is still and small, we must be completely silent. That to submit to the will of the Lord means to erase our own entirely. That to be filled with the Spirit, we must empty ourselves. One of my greatest failings is a tendency towards passivity, when the Lord has taught me boldness and confidence.

The thought struck me that the Spirit testifies of truth; thus, you have to say something for Him to testify about. He brings things to your remembrance; thus, you have to have some thoughts and experiences for Him to work with. He builds you up and strengthens you—He cannot do that if you are working to silence your own voice. He wishes to teach you how to be a Queen, a Priestess. Are you turning yourself into a puppet? 

We are inundated with a hundred voices a day. They tell us where to shop, what to buy, where to find love, what love is and what it feels like, how to earn love and belonging, who to be. The speakers of these voices have been very clever at getting into our subconscious. If they are hidden, and we don’t recognize them for what they are, we don’t even realize they aren’t our own. 

The first step in hearing the Spirit, is finding your own voice. What do you really think of all the messages that are sent to you throughout the day? What do you really want? Why do you want it?

When I prayed for my mother, I was not simply praying for a healing. I spoke of my love for her, I admitted my fears. Since all of these were true, the Spirit came easily and powerfully. I prayed for hope, love, comfort, and strength. I thought that removing my mother’s cancer would satisfy all of these desires, but the Lord showed me how to have exactly what I wanted in a more meaningful and long-lasting way. 

To be united with God in His will, I also needed to know mine with greater clarity. Such unity requires complete honesty, for only truth can be in the presence of God. This means acknowledging your fears, weaknesses, and your own desires but not to be ruled by them. Take them to God and lay them down honestly. 

The Spirit will help you in sorting out the fact from the fiction. He’ll help you see what’s important to you, even when others are trying to get you to see only what’s important to them. He’ll encourage you in your talents, even when they’re different than what others expect of you. He’ll tell you when to let go of a worry because it’s based on a fabrication. He’ll comfort you when you’re scared and stand by you when it’s worth doing anyway. 

The Lord invited us to be united with Him because He loves us, not because He wants to erase us. He wants us to show up and be a part of the conversation. The Lord will help you find your voice, and that is what He will strengthen.

Invisible Fires

Why, 12 years after I accepted my mother’s death and two years after she died, was I angry and blaming God for her illness? I still remembered the glorious way God told me of her death (See “Will of the Father, Will of the Child, Part II). The wonderful part of God’s answer was the certainty of the promise that I would be with her again, but the promise itself is actually extended to everyone. My step-father is also sealed to my mother and will be with her again, but he was healed from his cancer and his time on earth extended. 

Instead of feeling like I had gained something, which is what I thought before, I felt that I had lost. I doubted myself again and wondered if there was something else I could have done. But when I looked back on it, I knew there was nothing else, I had done everything I could. Thus, it was God’s fault.

I also felt that God didn’t really care about my wishes. I wanted my mother healed, He said, “No.” I wanted to get married, He said, “Do this first.” I obeyed and did get married, but then the marriage twisted and became sour. I wanted children, the Lord said, “Later,” and when I fought, I was punished with intense exhaustion, frustration, and depression. I was always the one that had to wait. I was always the one that was wrong, or too impatient, too stupid to know what was really going on.

God’s love suddenly seemed manipulative and His will forceful. Instead of listening to me, He was twisting and pushing to see how long until I would crack. His tests were mean and unfair. 

After going to the temple and feeling His unconditional love (See “Welcome Back, I’ve Missed You”), I knew that He wasn’t insulting me and pushing me down, but I was still confused and hurting.

A few months after my trip to the temple, I was in a Sunday school class. We began with the story in 1 Kings chapter 18 where in Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to a sacrificial show down. He wanted to prove to the people that the idols were powerless and empty, whereas the God of Israel lived and used His power to answer the prayers of His people. When the priests of Baal set up their sacrifice and prayed to their idol for fire, there was no answer. When Elijah prayed over his sacrifice, including buckets of water poured over the fire wood, God sent fire from heaven and completely consumed the sacrifice. The people saw this, fell on their faces, and cried, “The Lord, He is God.”

In chapter 19, Elijah has fled to a cave in Horeb the mount of God. The Lord calls to Elijah and before the cave passes by a mighty wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by a fire, but the Lord was in none of these. After the fire came a still small voice. Only then did Elijah go to the mouth of the cave to hear the Lord.

As we discussed this story, which I had heard many times, I thought, What do you mean, you’re not in the fire? One chapter ago, you literally made a fire to prove your existence and your power. If you’re not in the fire, then why make the fire?

I remembered the few times I tried to share the story of my mother on my mission. I wanted to testify of the mighty change of heart, the incredible miracle that is learning the will of the Lord. My hope was to inspire people to pray to discover His will so they could see the beauty of life through God’s eyes. I never got through the story. I was interrupted by people telling me my mother would be healed if I would stop doubting. 

“You just need to have more faith.” 

“Keep praying, you’re not there yet.” 

I stopped telling it because it was too hurtful to hear people essentially blaming me for my mother’s future death, which I knew would come. It was not their intention to hurt me, they wanted to inspire me to have greater faith by testifying of God’s ability to heal, but they spoke without listening. I became increasingly frustrated with other people’s definition of miracles and their attempts to judge my faith. The complete lack of listening to God and expecting all miracles to be right in front of your face made me so angry, I just stopped talking about miracles all together. I didn’t know how to get people to understand that the greatest miracles are invisible. 

As I remembered this in that Sunday school class, I realized I had two fires before me. The visible fire that was my step-father’s physical healing and the invisible one that was in my heart the night I learned my mother would die. The Lord asked me, “which one is the more powerful fire?” 

I now definitively believe that the most powerful miracle will be the one that happens in your own heart, the one no one else will ever feel or see, except those that truly know your heart. A physical fire is a flash in the pan, it lasts only for a few seconds. If you want to tell me about a miracle, go ahead. I believe God is a God of miracles and He still works among us every day. But tell me how you’ve changed, tell me what you learned from God. Otherwise, there is no power there. Who we become because of what we learn is what lasts for eternity. These are the eternal flames where God can be found.

I also learned that too many people build their perceptions of God’s character backwards. They look around for physical fires and assign their own reasons to those fires and thus begin to sketch the character and motivations of God. Instead, if they sought to know God’s character by listening to His voice, they would know Him and then they would better understand the fire. 

God sent the fire to the sacrifice for Elijah, and people saw the fire, but they did not see God or hear His voice. They were not converted or changed. God sent the wind, the earthquake, and the fire to the mount, but Elijah did not see God or hear His voice in those manifestations. To know God, to learn from Him and of Him, to see His hands, His power, and His love, is to listen.

I was reminded that day, that I knew God because of countless prayers and time spent with Him. One healing did not change Him, I already knew who He was. I remembered my spiritual eyes and started feeling fires again instead of looking for them.

Will of the Father, Will of the Child, Part 2

Through my months of practicing Enos-type prayers (explained in my previous post), I found better ways to study for Organic Chemistry, insights into friendships and other relationships, as well as a constant sense of tranquility. When I felt confident that I knew the voice of the Lord, I decided to pray again for my mother. I went through my usual mental preparations to clear my mind and focus on what I wanted to say and how to listen. Perhaps because I was extra nervous, I also pushed my own desire down so as not to bias what I was feeling. I wanted to know that what I felt was truly from the Spirit and not in anyway a reflection of my own fears or desires. 

I was met with a brick wall.

I became frustrated, desperately angry. By this point, every time, I prayed I would feel the Spirit. Some sort of comfort, peace, love, welcome. Why was He ignoring me when I asked my most important question?

I vented my frustration in prayer. I pleaded for Him to tell me and talk to me. I told Him how afraid I was of my mother’s death. How much I loved her and how much I wanted this knowledge. And that’s when the wall came down.

I saw, in my mind, my mother walk through a veil, passing from this life to the next. There was a group of women waiting for her. They were so excited to see her, everyone hugged and laughed. A few seconds later, I walked through the veil and was met with the same enthusiasm. I understood that this did not mean my mother and I would die a few seconds apart, but that she would die, and I would finish my life without her. When I reunited with her, it would feel as if we had been separated for only seconds.

I realized my greatest fear was to be alone. I was worried about those few seconds; it wasn’t going to feel that short here and now. I begged God to stay with me, to not leave me alone. 

I remembered going to the temple with my mother and step-father when I was 14 and being sealed to them for time and all eternity. The Lord told me that He had always been with me. He knew this was going to come and so He prepared me beforehand to build me up and give me the strength I would need. He had been there for me before the storm, and He certainly wasn’t going to leave me in the middle of it. 

I felt again the promise that when reunited, I would recognize that the separation was very short and then we would be together for all eternity and never separated again. I wanted this promise desperately. The words of my prayer went from, don’t you leave me, don’t you ever leave me, to, don’t let me leave you, don’t let me leave this church.

I saw, in my mind’s eye with my physical eyes closed, Christ sitting in the chair upon which I was kneeling, holding me and stroking my hair as I cried. I felt like I was on fire, my entire body burning. Physical reflexes took over and I jumped back to get out of the flames. I started to drop to the ground to roll and put out the fire, and then realized there was none. 

Years after this event, while training to be a missionary, I read 2Ne 4:21, “He hath filled me with His love, even unto the consuming of my flesh,” and I felt an echo of that fire. God’s love is a fire. 

God’s love is intense enough to consume fears, to sear truth into our very souls. I knew that my mother would die from her cancer, but I was not afraid. The weakness of my flesh, the fear that came from a mortal perspective, was gone—consumed by the flame. I know that I will be with her again. The truth of God’s promises seems to be in my bones. 

When Christ invites us to be one with Him as He is one with the Father, it is not merely poetic. Neither is it a blessing to be enjoyed only after we die. There are ways here and now to be united with God. We can learn directly from Him and He will teach us to see as He sees, to do as He does, and to love as He loves. To truly know and see the will of God, is to love it and accept it as your own. His perspective is beautiful. To change your perspective to match His is life changing. The change that will come to your heart is nothing short of miraculous. 

I knew this. Why did I forget it? The Lord had to remind me of it and help me see it afresh when, years later, I became angry with Him. I thought He was cruel and manipulative for forcing His will upon others without consideration or fairness. I had to be reminded that the miracles, the justice, the mercy, the fairness is in His love. And it is found in unity.

This story is continued in Invisible Fires.

Will of the Father, Will of the Child, Part 1

I prayed constantly for a physical healing for my mother. Many scriptures teach that if you ask in faith you will receive, so I asked. But it never felt right. At first, I thought it was doubt—that I lacked the faith to actually receive the miracle I wanted. I kept praying and trying to increase my faith that God could heal my mother, but my prayers never changed, and I always felt off. Then, I remembered learning about Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He ended His prayer saying, “thy will be done” and my seminary teacher taught us to end our prayers the same way, thus praying with humility and trust in God’s will. I began adding “thy will be done” to the end of my prayers and I felt right. Prayers for my mother brought comfort but I started worrying in a new way.

I prayed constantly for a physical healing for my mother after her cancer diagnosis. I was still young, only 18, and she was the only one that had stayed with me through everything. At that time, the thought of losing her scared me more than anything else ever had before or ever has since.

Many scriptures teach that if you ask in faith you will receive, so I asked. But it never felt right. At first, I thought it was doubt—that I lacked the faith to actually receive the miracle I wanted. I kept praying and trying to increase my faith that God could heal my mother, but my prayers never changed, and I always felt off. Then, I remembered learning about Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He ended His prayer saying, “thy will be done” and my seminary teacher taught us to end our prayers the same way, thus praying with humility and trust in God’s will. I began adding “thy will be done” to the end of my prayers and I felt right. Prayers for my mother brought comfort, but I started worrying in a new way.

If I felt wrong when I prayed for my mother to be healed and right when I prayed for God’s will to be done, was that because it wasn’t God’s will to heal her? Desperate to hold on to hope, I wanted it to be that I simply needed to be more humble. I wanted to submit to God’s will, but I also became obsessed with how to know it. I reasoned that if I knew what His will was, I would have the faith required to receive the miracle He was willing to give or the strength to remain faithful after her death without becoming bitter or depressed. I have always wanted to be in control, and in a situation where I had none, knowing the outcome before hand was the only way I could get some back. 

While I was wondering about how to learn God’s will instead of just praying for it in the abstract, I went to an Institute class and learned about Enos. Even now, decades later, Enos is one of my favorite prophets in the entire Book of Mormon and I consider this Institute lesson a life changing miracle all on its own.

Enos was a prophet that contributed only one chapter to the Book of Mormon, and in that chapter, he prays a mighty prayer all day and all night. While his prayer begins in asking for forgiveness for himself, he extends it to pleading for his friends and then his enemies. He doesn’t simply ask for his enemies to find the gospel in a general way. In the end, he asks for the ending and purpose of the Book of Mormon rather specifically including the destruction of his own people—a rather illogical leap to make on his own. He somehow knew, as God did, what would happen and God’s plan to extend mercy to all his children.

Enos prayed for God’s will as if it was his own. In the Bible Dictionary, under the definition of prayer, there is this descriptor, “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” Throughout the course of the prayer, Enos showed how his spiritual strength grew until he not only felt Christ-like love but also thought in a Godly way. He understood God’s will and wanted it himself. 

After I heard this lesson, I went back to my dorm room and re-read Enos over and over. I wanted to know more of the nuts and bolts. What are the steps, how exactly does one achieve this final outcome in a prayer? Thoughts came to me such that I now say the Spirit taught me how to pray. 

I learned how to slow down such that I could discern my thoughts from spiritual promptings—the difference between my voice and the Lord’s. I no longer rattled off a one sided email, but invited the Lord into a conversation. My prayers changed dramatically and I found, like Enos, that I not only heard the Lord’s voice, felt confident in His love and mercy, felt an increase in my own God-like love for others, but also knew the will of the Lord because it became mine as we worked and talked together. 

This type of praying is difficult and takes a great deal of mental focus. In Michigan, I wanted to pray like this again, but found it too hard with all the pain in my heart. Even now, I’m often too tired and too easily distracted. But when I was in college praying for my mother, I had an intense motivation and my prayers were an incredible source of strength. Learning how to pray in this way and dedicating myself to do so everyday lead to the greatest spiritual experience I have ever had. 

I find myself wondering how to bring this kind of dedication back. Is it through knowing our close connection to God? Is it the desire to hear His voice so regularly? What is it that really holds me back on those nights I’m too tired?  Can I connect my will to God’s even when it’s not as urgent as life and death?

This story is continued in Will of the Father, Will of the Child, part 2

“I will be Enough”

My mother and father divorced when I was still an infant. One night, my mother watched me as I slept in my crib and cried saying to God, “Why did you give her to me? You knew this would happen, so why give me a child now? She deserves a mother and a father, brothers and sisters. I cannot give her those. I am not enough.”

In response, she heard the Spirit say, “I love her more than you ever could, and I will be enough.”

My mother told me that story when I was young, but it didn’t stick with me until she told it again after her cancer diagnosis. I had come home from college for a long weekend to be with her after her first surgery. Her cancer was advanced, stage IV metastatic breast cancer and with each new test, cancer was found in a new place: her lymph nodes, her shoulder, her spine, her hip, and her liver. They did not think she would live long but she wanted to be as aggressive as she could in treatment options to have as much time as possible.

I tried telling her she was enough, she always had been, but she stopped me and said, “No, I have always needed God. He loves you and knows you better than I do, and I have needed Him to tell me what to do many times. He will always take care of you, and He will be enough.”

I left her bedside and wondered how I could trust this promise. Her diagnosis was a difficult blow for me. I often felt she was my only family, my only true confidant. I could not envision a future without her. It wasn’t just a rug pulled out from under me, it was my entire world. Could an amorphous, unknowable, silent God fill such a void?

I thought about why I loved her. She loved me, she took care of me, she listened to me, and she taught me. Could Heavenly Father do all of those same things for me? John says that we love God because He first loved us (1John 4:19). He says that He will care for us as He does the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28-30). He hears our petitions and teaches us the mysteries of heaven.

Next, I thought about how I showed my love to my mother. I talked to her, I listened to her, I did things with her, I did things for her. I realized these are the same things Heavenly Father has asked me to do. All the commandments have this as their purpose. To spend time with God, involve Him in our lives, learn to hear His voice, do His work.

The parallels were there, and I wanted to try and build a close parent-child relationship with God, but the differences were also stark.  I started by reading the scriptures and ran into some problems right away. Some verses were confusing. I didn’t get to know my mother by reading other people’s stories about her, God just felt too far away. He wouldn’t take me out to dinner for my birthday, He was harder to hear than my mother over the phone, I didn’t know His laugh. I did know He could heal.

In the beginning, I prayed constantly for my mother to be healed. If He gave good gifts, and the greatest gift He ever gave me was my mother, then healing her would be an ideal way for Him to keep His promise.

I did not understand the promise at first, but as I turned to God, I learned more of what He could do. The greatest way I have found God is in prayer. He is not unknowable or silent. The next few posts are the story of how I learned the importance of spiritual things, spiritual healings, and what I consider the greatest miracles of all—unity with God. Because, He is enough.