No Self-Hatred Necessary, Welcome Home

God is so smart. I expected lectures and condescension when I got mad at Him and questioned His reasoning. Instead, the Spirit helped me remember my own past experiences. He gave me space and showed a tremendous amount of patience. Looking back on it now, if He had tried to send me a message about why my mother needed to die while my step-father got to be healed, I would not have responded well. 

My anger against God for the death of my mother did not stop my attending church. Rather, I attended with challenge in my heart. I practically dared God to comfort me with cliched platitudes, or to say that His ways were higher than my ways. In my mind, this would prove He didn’t know or care about me personally and that He was purely manipulative. When nothing came, I felt both vindicated and disappointed. Eventually, I came to crave the comfort, even if it was a platitude. I just wanted something.

I decided to go back to the temple. There was no grand sin that made me feel unworthy to be there, but rather the embarrassment of talking badly about someone behind their back, they over hear you, and then you have to go to their house and ask them for a favor. I definitely had my tail between my legs, head hanging in shame. An entire apology with generous amounts of self-flagellation was scripted in my head before I began.

I was worried about going into the Celestial Room—this is the one place I know for sure I will always feel the Spirit and I love how peace washes over me as I walk through the door—but what if it wasn’t peace this time and I met anger instead? I braced myself for a rebuke knowing that I deserved it. 

Before I could sit down and offer my prayer of self-recrimination, I felt the presence of God and His words, “Welcome back, Christen. I’ve missed you.” I felt loved. And that was it.

I sat down and tried to pray but nothing else would come. The words I had formulated beforehand disappeared and could not leave my lips. God, it seems, did not want me to rake myself over the coals. He simply wanted me to sit and relax. He did not try to explain Himself, He just let me feel loved and safe. 

We don’t need huge reasons or grand intricate plans before we accept others, ourselves, or Him. We simply need to feel loved and know that we are safe. He is infinitely patient and understanding. You don’t have to explain it to Him. He already knows what happened, what you were thinking and feeling.

He knew all the nasty things I thought about Him and He knew why. His feelings weren’t hurt, and He wasn’t out for vengeance. He just missed me.

He misses all of us. He will help us understand, show us the things we overlooked, teach us how to move forward. First, we need to let go. Be still, know that He is God, and God is love. 

Sometime after this, again at the temple, I offered an apology without self-hatred, just an acknowledgement of what I didn’t want to do again. As if sitting right beside me, He said, “Yes, we need to work on your conviction, and we will do it.”

I understood that we were a team. He did not abandon me because I was such a useless failure. I still had a purpose, a mission to fulfill, and we would do it together.

Act with Purpose

As an overwhelmed working mother, I thought only of my to-do list, and how I fulfilled my duties determined my self worth. If I didn’t do the laundry, I was a bad mother. If I didn’t get results from the experiment, I was a useless scientist. If I gained weight, I was a horrible woman.

We live in a world that assigns value to things on a constant basis. We even assign values to people. And for some reason, we often accept another’s evaluation over our own.

Perhaps someone has hurt us and we start to think that we deserved that ill-treatment. Or another has something we want but can’t have and we think that is a reflection of our own worth as well. We become so entrenched in our societies’ economical systems that it can be difficult to step aside and learn a new way to see value. 

In Michigan, I taught a youth Sunday school class for 12 to 13 year olds. We read the first verse in 1 Nephi that reads:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parent, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I can’t remember my original purpose in reading that scripture, I only remember that as we read it, the Spirit told me I was highly favored. And I didn’t fully believe it. I honestly asked those young teenagers, “How do you know if you’re highly favored of the Lord?”

They started complimenting each other’s hair. Then mentioned their families. Then said they were grateful for the gospel. 

I’m sure that beautiful 13 year old girl with long blonde hair did feel blessed because of it. She complimented everybody’s hair regardless of color or style. But what about bald people? Or people that hate their hair? Are they still loved?

Nephi also felt blessed because of his parents, but Laman and Lemuel had the same parents and did not feel favored of the Lord because of it. Too many of us have bad parents that make critical mistakes, aren’t we loved? 

The gospel is important. However, we must be careful not to think we are better for being in one religion over another.

There is nothing wrong in being grateful for what you have, but when we think of these as measures of love, we might run into some trouble. Nephi says that he had afflictions but “knowledge of the goodness…of God” is what he focused on. This is available to everyone. I realized I was loved—I was just looking at the wrong measure of it.

Once, when I was a teenager, I felt miserable but also thought that the Lord wouldn’t help me because I wasn’t going to church. I was desperate to feel the Spirit and my sorrowful mind believed that I was too bad to talk to God. He wouldn’t listen to someone like me. 

I figured that if I could start doing better and show Him that I could be better, then maybe He would hear my prayer. My depression logic came up with one week of nightly scripture study for one heard prayer. As I read, the number of nights I needed to earn a heard prayer started to come down. Surely, five nights will be enough, a few verses later, maybe after three nights. By the end of my reading, I realized I was allowed to pray and the Lord would hear it. I felt the Spirit and I felt loved.

Commandments are not chores we do to earn nickels and dimes we can spend at God’s General Store of Blessings. Because society can only see the outside, it is society’s value system that determines love by what we do, how others treat us, and what we have.

The Lord sees our hearts. Commandments are God’s invitations to come and be with Him. Our obedience is our way of inviting Him to come be with us. We are loved regardless of what we do. The invitation stands even if we don’t accept it. If we do invite God to be with us, we will know how much we are loved.

What we do is important. We are always making choices even when we are passively trying to avoid making choices. The purpose behind those choices matter. We don’t need to earn love as much as we need to act to show love and accept it. When the purpose is true, our actions have power, even if they’re not perfect.

Problem 2: I am mad at God

This post is part of “my story” which starts with the post “Finding Purpose”

Not long after we arrived in Michigan I got a call from my step-father. He had cancer advanced enough that the doctors feared he would not survive to the end of that summer. Two years after my mother’s death from cancer, my step-father’s diagnosis was eerily similar and even more severe. 

My mother was amazing. She was vibrant. She loved life, and nature, and people with a joy that few can match. She was healthy, and, were it not for cancer, she would have lived a long life. She was my life. As her only child, we were together all the time, just the two of us, until she was remarried when I was 13. After that, there were still many times she was my only supporter and defender. 

I had done a lot of praying and crying when my mother was diagnosed, and I thought my step-father’s death would be easier because I was already comfortable with the answers I’d received before. It did not occur to me that those answers would change.

My step-father told me of the doctor’s prognosis and their plan to be aggressive in treating his cancer. I thought, this will be alright. I got through this before, I can do it again. I love my step-father dearly but I did rather automatically assume that he was about to die and I accepted that.

Then he said, “Honey, I think I’m going to make it. I’m going to go through hell, but I’m going to live.”

I felt the Spirit confirm those words. My step-father would be cured of his cancer. 

I love my step-father, but it hurt to see the miracle I wanted most for my mother given to someone else. No one deserved to be healed of cancer more than my mother.

During that summer, I prayed and cried all over again. I didn’t want to be jealous. I wanted to be happy for a wonderful man. My mother was already gone, so why did it feel like she was dying once more? And this time, I was dying right along with her. At the end of the summer, when my step-father’s cancer was gone, my confusion and grief turned to bitter rage.

My thoughts ran around in circles that spiraled deeper and deeper. I was selfish for wanting no one to be healed if my mother couldn’t be. I was evil for wanting the deaths of others. But I knew I didn’t actually want others to die, I wanted my mother to live. I was asking for fairness, consideration, and love. The One that was supposed to be giving me those things, He was the one causing deaths and sewing pain. 

My God, one of my best friends, who held me and comforted me when I was at my lowest, just stabbed me in the back. If He really loved me as much as He said He did, why didn’t He just cure her? He obviously could have done so at any time. It no longer felt like He had passively allowed her death because it needed to happen for some undisclosed reason. No, God had killed my mother. He didn’t love me. He was manipulative and just looking for ways to dig the knife in deeper so He could twist it later. I was so mad, I hated Him. 

Nothing seemed to help. Everyone that tried just put more blame on my own shoulders. It was easier to hate God than to hate myself any more than I already did. 

For some, when they become mad at God, it simply serves as proof that there is no God. This was not the case for me. I know there is a God. God is love. Until I thought he was a liar. Then everything turned to ash. 

Regardless of how you envision God, fully formed personage or completely non-existent, it can be a struggle to find love and light in a world that is an unfair chaotic mix of hatred and darkness. We must all find some way to make peace with the world, some hope that our time here is not pointless. For me, the answer came in knowing God more personally and finding that to know God is the greatest miracle of all.