An Eye Single to the Glory of God

Once, many years ago, I went to the temple feeling overwhelmed and stretched in too many directions. I prayed, hoping the Lord would sort through it all and tell me my priorities. How was I to balance being a good mother, wife, scientist, home maker, saint,…on and on and on? My hope was that the Lord would take some of those things off my list by telling me they weren’t really that important. My actual answer was, “keep your eye single to the Glory of God.” 

What is the Glory of God? I thought, and I knew instantly that it was us—His children. I thought of all the things God does for us, how He lifts and teaches.

My to-do list started to change from tasks to people. I thought of the people I served, those I loved and sought to help, and what kind of help they actually needed. When I viewed the people, the tasks started to change. 

For example, I hate doing dishes, but I love my children and we need to eat off of clean dishes for several health reasons. This seems like a necessary service to give my family. Yet, when I thought of the service my children needed, it was not clean dishes that came to mind. It was time spent with their mother and learning. If they could cook and clean with me, we would be spending important time together and they could learn and grow.

This all sounds beautiful in theory, and in my head it was exciting. In practice, however, not so much. The tasks were too complicated for them. They worked very slowly. They would rather watch TV. Remember, this impression came to me years ago, and I’m still working on it. 

I keep trying to make chores a team sport and focus more on teaching them and encouraging them instead of having it perfectly cleaned and totally finished. My ultimate goal would be that I don’t do chores by myself—the house is lived in together and cared for together—but I am not there yet. 

What I have kept, though, is that perspective of seeing people over tasks. Time together over appearances. This mental shift did a lot to ease the stress and anxiety I had been feeling and gave me a new approach in how to prioritize and think through my daily tasks. 

As I’ve worked on this, I’ve realized it’s not the tasks I need to let go of, it’s the expectations and the worry about how other people see me. 

I’ve found that I’m not always focused on the people that I want to lift and strengthen because I’m worried about the people watching. There are expectations I have put upon myself, not because they are what I need to do to lift someone, but because they are what I need to do to look good. It’s not that I’m vain—I know I’m not the best. What I want is just to belong. I want people to like me, even if the expense is stretching myself too thin, taking on too many tasks. In fact, I did this just last month.

So, how do I pull myself back? I’ve decided to look for people to lift, not for people to please. I think of my relationships and ask what I can do to lift this person?

A quick side note: it is an incorrect definition of power that says one person can only rise if another falls. When done correctly, power is cumulative. When one rises, we all rise. Lifting another doesn’t mean you offer them your back to step on. People may think they need things, or things done for them, but that’s not necessarily true and it might not be in your ability to give. Just like I needed to focus on people over appearances, I need to be sure I’m offering a true lift from connection and love and not a temporary fix. 

Sometimes, they need a bit of help, but more often than not, they just want someone to listen. Most people just want a little bit of praise and some compliments. Some, like me, want to be involved, and they are the ones I get to ask for help. In return, I get what I really wanted. I belong with these people because we have built a connection and a lasting relationship based on care and understanding. 

A Personal Review of Depression

Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the different ways we can experience a depression and the different forms it can take. How difficult it can be to recognize a depression for what it is, even when you’re the one experiencing it. There are different ways to heal, different lessons to learn. For myself, I have had three, perhaps four, distinct bouts with depression, and they have taken on different forms. These are some of the things I’ve learned from my various depressions.

The first one was the worst. It came when I was 15, a fairly common time for mental health disorders to show up, but I wouldn’t say that it was purely genetic. There was a boy that I blamed my depression on because he began to bully and torment me when I was about 14. At first, I was angry at him and I told other people how much I hated him and how mean he was. But no one believed me. They told me I was the mean one. It took me years to understand how this happened, but he was saying things about me too, and they believed him over me.

After a while, I learned to keep my mouth shut. Trying to talk to people about it only got me in more trouble. They told me I was too sensitive, I needed to let it go. I was too naive, if I knew more about boys, I would understand. I was too selfish, I needed to think about things from his side and stop trying to pull him down. I started to believe them. I blamed myself for everything and I was stupid, worthless, and horrible.

By the time I was 15, I had bizarre physical pains in my stomach that did not have any diagnosable source that the multiple doctors I went to could find. But I was also severely depressed. I was sleeping all the time, refusing to leave the house, watching TV for hours, unable to read, but also obsessed with solving puzzles. I would also fantasize about dying and committing suicide.

To many people, I was still a selfish girl who wanted attention and my illness was not real. I just needed a firmer hand, some believed, a push out the door, and my mother was being too soft. My mother just wanted me happy again. She took me to a counselor and a psychologist and kept trying to help me. My medications and the counseling started to work. I did start feeling better and oddly enough, all of the pain and hatred I had for myself started to turn outward again. I blamed that boy and all the people that believed him instead of me.

From this depression, I learned several things. One, emotional pain will sometimes manifest itself physically because the body does not know how to interpret it or fix it. There is a connection between the physical and the emotional that cannot be denied though it’s also not entirely understood. Two, my mind and body shut down as much as possible when depressed. I need to be vigilant in noticing the warning signs of when I feel the desire to turn-off. Three, anger is felt on the way into and on the way out of a depression but is often not present during the darkest part of the depression. Because depression is often a desire to shut down, it is characterized by very low energy emotions—apathy, lack of focus, disconnection, despair—and anger is a high energy emotion which can be a good sign though it’s also important to not stay in anger for too long.

Unfortunately, the bullying and abuse that centered in this depression occurred largely at church. One of the best things I did when my depression was bad was to stop going to church, and one of the best things I did to complete my healing was to go back to church. When I was doing better, getting back to my angry self, my mother told me that if I thought there were bullies at church then there would be others that felt the same way. “Go look for them,” she said, “be with them, believe them, and they will be your friends.” She was right. The others I found that were being marginalized and bullied became some of my best friends. I also remembered the spiritual feelings I had when depressed (see “A promise of light” for one example) and realized that if I liked praying, reading scriptures, and going to church because they brought me the Spirit, I shouldn’t let someone else keep me from being where I wanted to be. If God wanted me at church, who were they to kick me out?

Anger carried me for quite a while, but it couldn’t fix everything. I went with a desire to be there and a fear that someone would notice I was an imposter. I tried to sit in some unnoticed corner, I had panic attacks, I spoke very little. I realized that I loved the Church, but I didn’t much care for other Mormons. It took a long time (not until the end of my mission truthfully) before I felt comfortable with other Mormons without fearing them.

My second depression came after my mother’s diagnosis with cancer. My fear of losing her and being alone was profound and I again started sleeping a great deal and wanting to watch TV. I went to counseling sooner and found a psychiatrist. I was able to keep up with my studies at school, but I didn’t attend church as much. Those at church that knew about my mother’s diagnosis were very nice and supportive, but I didn’t really let them help me much. I did have fabulous friends at school that helped me a lot. Lessons from this depression: don’t be afraid of medication and counseling, take it, the sooner you do the better it goes and let people help you, you are not a burden to your friends, they care enough to sit with you even when you’re sad.

I struggle to call this next one a third depression because it did not go to the extent that I needed counseling and medication, but it was difficult. I was with a companion as a missionary that I could not leave, we needed to be together all the time, and she had very exacting standards. I started to feel that I did everything wrong, that I was not good enough to be a missionary, I cried a lot, felt tired all the time, and wanted to go home. Being mostly isolated as we were, there were few options for finding support.

Our Mission President had given everyone a talk from President Benson entitled Beware of Pride, and in this talk I found my coping mechanism. I thanked and praised my companion for something every day. When I did this, she was nicer to me. I don’t recall her thanking me or praising me in return, but she was less critical, and doing this for her made it easier to do it for myself. I will not lie and say this was wonderful—it was hard. I don’t think I could have done it if I had not known that we would only be companions for a few more weeks, but it did work.

I learned from this experience that I need to be nicer to myself. One of the reasons her criticisms were so hard to combat was because she did not say anything to me that I did not already say to myself. To have it confirmed by another person made it ten time worse, but I began to ask, why was I so critical in the first place? She and I were similar in one regard—we were both perfectionists. She is what I now call a high energy perfectionist, someone who can pay attention to the details and follow through with her grand ideas because she has enough energy for it. I am what I call a low energy perfectionist. I see the details, I have grand visions of what I want to do, but I don’t always have the energy to do it all which is why I always fall short of what I want and always feel like a failure. I used to wish I had more energy to go with my perfectionism, but my experience with her has taught me that moving that fast often leaves you blind to the things around you. I prefer my slower pace now; I see that I can do more than what I’d originally envisioned because my vision is broader. It is now my goal to fight off my perfectionism and be kind to myself.

My last depression was when we lived in Michigan, far away from friends and family. I was going through several intense struggles (see Problem 1, Problem 2, and Problem 3 for more details) and began to hate myself, God, and the people around me. Looking back on it, I’m surprised I did not recognize it for what it was. I was tired all the time, but I blamed that on my new baby. I started off with anger and it wasn’t until my anger started to turn to despair and I began to fantasize about leaving, shutting down, that I realized I had a problem. I went to God and took my healing seriously, but I didn’t seek counseling and medication. I can’t say why, this was a poor decision, and I do not recommend it. Perhaps it was because I kept blaming other things and thought I just needed to fix this or fix that and then I’d be fine. It’s possible I didn’t trust that anyone else would understand. Maybe I was afraid that people would blame me again or be dismissive about my pain. For whatever reason, I didn’t think of this as a depression until years later when I was finally out of it enough to see clearly.

One thing I learned from this one was the need to talk to other people. I think my husband knew I was depressed before I did, but because I saw him as one of the problems that I needed to fix, I wasn’t listening very well. I got mad at the people at church because they were more concerned about my husband than they were about me. They wanted to answer his questions and help him feel welcomed at church, all very good. But there is no magic answer or silver bullet for someone like him and friendship does not equal belief.  Meanwhile, as I was feeling very lonely and questioning my future, no one asked me if I had any questions or whether I needed more fellowship. Neither my Home Teachers (male ministers) nor Visiting Teachers (female ministers) ever came.

I began to get a bit resentful. I felt invisible, taken for granted, and far less important than my husband. I remember trying to make a friend by going to a Relief Society dinner and then crying the whole way home. I started to think of them as shallow, stupid people. And my panic attacks came back in full force. Just like when I tried to go back to church after my depression as a teenager, I would panic in Relief Society, sit by myself in Sacrament Meeting, and say nothing in Sunday School. I loved the Church, but I hated Mormons.

When I look back on this depression, I think my biggest lesson was that forgiveness is the final healing. I needed help desperately but because I hadn’t really forgiven those first Mormons who had hurt me as a teenager, I didn’t allow the ward members in my college ward to help me, and then I didn’t trust the people in my Michigan ward.

I can’t say that I was wrong to avoid church until I was firmly on the road to health. I needed separation from the ones that were hurting me. But holding on to anger also held me back from finding new allies. I’ve been working more on forgiving those that didn’t understand and didn’t see what was really going on. I think I understand them better now and it’s helped me find new allies but also to be a better ally for someone else.

I learned these lessons from battles with depression, but I think they’re useful for everyone. Our bodies and spirits are connected, let them strengthen each other and don’t ever build one at the expense of the other or they will both fall apart. Deal with your anger, it can be very useful, but don’t use it for too long and don’t hide it away or it will destroy you. When you feel yourself turning off find ways to connect and engage. Slow down and be kind to yourself. Find those people that will support you and forgive those who don’t know how.

I’ve met a lot of people who don’t understand what the big deal is. Everyone needs to have good friends, so why is that so hard for depressed people? I had a lot of friends before I was depressed, afterward I had one. Friendship is not easy for me, it’s frightening. But because I’ve struggled with it and worked at it, I think I know more now about how to be and find good friends than those for whom friendship is easy. Because forgiveness was hard, I know more about it. Because my mind and my heart are sensitive, I’ve studied how to take care of them. People who think these things are easy may mistakenly believe they’re stronger or smarter. But I warn you, we who have struggled are wiser and stronger than you realize.

Don’t stop fighting, it’s worth it.

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. 

Unity Against All Odds

Unity can be found where we least expect it and scars removed from wounds that we ignored.

One of the wonderful women I knew in Michigan once spoke about her father and learning what it meant to “honor thy parents” even when you don’t think that parent deserves much honor. We naturally assume that honoring our parents involves obeying them, so what do you do if your father is an alcoholic and you have no respect for him? That was her situation, and so she thought the commandment didn’t fully apply in her case—until she reconciled with her father. If I remember right, he was still an alcoholic at the time of their reconciliation, and she was a woman with children of her own, but with the age of wisdom she was able to see him differently, as a child of God with pain and hurt, who had hurt others, and was still in need of love and honor. She didn’t go into a lot of detail about what exactly she had learned from the Spirit, but she did say repeatedly that she learned how to honor her father.

Her situation was so similar to mine, I began to yearn for what she had learned. I, too, wanted to honor my father. I had always thought of myself as having no father. To me, that commandment was easily applied to my mother, my Heavenly Father, and later my step-father but never to my biological father because he barely existed. 

I have seen pictures of him holding me when I was a baby, but because I don’t remember those times, I say that I met my father once when I was seven years old, spent one day with him, and never saw him again. He took me to an amusement park. I remember being very excited to meet him because I had a picture of him in my room—that was all he was to me, a picture—and he was going to come to life. We rode a lot of rides, he let me pick and choose, he showed me a picture of my half-sister. I wanted a sister more than anything. I asked him if I could keep the picture and meet her one day. He said he would find a way for us to visit him at the same time and get me my own picture, but I couldn’t keep that one because it was his only one. He got mad at me at dinner because he asked me if I liked a present that he had sent to me. I hadn’t realized the present was from him and he was angry at my mom for taking credit for it. I knew my mother would never do something like that, it was more likely that she told me but that I didn’t notice or realize—he was a picture, pictures don’t send presents. I still firmly believe that she told me he sent the present but to my seven-year-old self it was like she was saying it was from Santa Clause. But he was mad, and, being a child, I blamed myself. A magical day that left me feeling a bit empty. I think on some level, even at seven years old, I realized that he could only offer me temporary shiny things. When it was something important, it was withheld, as if he couldn’t quite find it in himself to give it to me. And even at that young of an age, I was very protective of my mother, so he scared me. On another level, I wanted him to keep his promise, I wanted him to keep arranging visits, let me meet my sister, give me more presents and this time I would know they were from him, because now he was real. But as time went on, and nothing else ever came, that part died. 

When I asked my mother, why they divorced she said, “I thought he was an alcoholic, but he disagreed.” That was essentially how she handled the whole situation. If I asked a question, she would answer it honestly with no judgement. She didn’t say he was an alcoholic, only that she thought he was. She didn’t say he was dangerous, only that he disagreed with her. I now don’t think he was ever abusive towards her, but when I was younger, I remained unsure. She wanted me to make up my own mind, but because I didn’t know him that was very hard to do. She also didn’t offer much information, other than “he loved lima beans,” and “his favorite game was backgammon.” She told me later that she didn’t know what to share or when, so she was waiting for me to ask the questions, but I didn’t always know what questions to ask or I started to get old enough to realize the answers were awkward.

At about 14 years old, I wanted to meet him again, but my mom couldn’t find him. She found a phone number for his parents, but they didn’t know where he was either. I asked her about my half-sister. “Did you know that I have a half-sister? Did you ever meet her?”

“Yes, I knew you had a half-sister, but I never met her,” she answered. Her face was turned down towards the kitchen sink and she didn’t look up at me as she washed the dishes. “How did you know you about her?”

“My dad showed me a picture of her that one time he took me to the amusement park. I can’t remember her name, do you know? I also can’t remember if she’s older or younger than me.”

“I don’t remember her name, I’m sorry, but I think she’s right about your same age.” She turned away from the sink and started wiping the kitchen counter. I knew enough not to touch that last comment, though it was confusing.

“I just thought maybe she or her mom would know where he was, but I guess since we don’t know her name…”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know her name.”

There are some questions that are just too hard to ask.

When I was 19, after my mother’s diagnosis with breast cancer and right before she medically retired from the Navy, she tried one more time to use some Naval resources to find my father. She found an address in Bountiful, Utah.

“You should try it,” she said. “It’s a year old, so he might not be there anymore, but it’s still worth a try.” 

She always believed it was important for a child to think well of his/her parents and to know them as much as they could. She would never say anything bad about him, even if that meant not talking about him much, and she wanted me to know him. But by that time, I didn’t want the risk. I was less desperate for the escape he offered. I was already so broken from her diagnosis; I didn’t want to feel anymore hurt. If he was at this address, we would probably have a nice conversation, go out to dinner, and then what? Another shiny thing that left me empty. The potential reward seemed too small when compared to the near certain pain that would follow. I never tried that address.

Another decade later, and I’m in Michigan listening to a story with similarities to mine but with a happy ending. It didn’t matter that this other father didn’t turn into a model parent. I wanted the peace this other daughter found. I pushed it down, thinking it would never happen because I had no idea how to find my father and attempt a reconciliation. Oh well, not that big of a deal anyway, I reasoned. I’ve moved on.

About three years after this, my half-sister found me on Facebook. 

Her private message had my mother’s name and my birthday and asked if I was the right Christen. I was surprised she knew that much about me and I had no idea who she was. When she told me she was my half-sister, I was excited and curious how she knew those details. She had spent more time with our father than I had, though he still was gone for long stretches of time. She was able to find him, however, when he was living in Alaska and went to visit him there. When she realized how sick he was from congestive heart failure, she brought him home to live with her for the last two years of his life. She loved having that time with him. 

I was glad he had her, a bit jealous that she had more time with him and the reconciliation I wanted but was too afraid to have. She connected me with other family members of which there are many, and the more I spoke with her and met some of my aunts and uncles, the more my jealousy grew and the angrier and more hurt I became. The old wounds were reopened, and I found it difficult to actually become a member of this family. My half-sister is two days younger than me, and suddenly my mother’s hesitation made more sense, but I was also mad at her for not being more open and honest with me. She left me in ignorance, and I had to find this out and deal with the repercussions on my own without her wisdom and guidance. I started to hate my father again, all I could see were his mistakes, the things he had denied me, and the consequences my mother and I had to live with. 

I didn’t want to deal with that hurt again. It was easier to close the wound, cover it up, ignore it, and go back to ignorance. I was fine as I was. I had my mother’s family, my step-family, and my in-laws. I didn’t need or want anything else. What was the point of a reconciliation now?

But when my half-sister told me that he had died my first thought was, You could do his work for him. He and his entire family are Catholic and while I do not know the level or commitment of their faith, there is a doctrine in my Church that baptisms and other covenants must be performed by proper Priesthood Authority which is only found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some find this belief offensive, and I’m sorry for that. I too have had to struggle with this requirement when I see so many individuals of other faiths that I consider to be wonderful and faithful and gloriously spiritual. Through my questions and struggles with God, I have come to see incredible beauty in His Priesthood and the Covenants that we can make with Him and they are special to me. I do not think this diminishes the beauty of other people in the eyes of God. He offers wonderful things to all His children. 

The covenants we make with God in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be made by proxy for those that have passed on and they are able to accept or reject the covenant in the Spirit World. Again, some find this offensive and problematic. I understand that point of view, but I hope that you can view this work as an expression of love as it is intended. Similar to how others light candles for the beloved dead or give them offerings. These proxy covenants are offerings of extreme love and they are our way of reaching beyond death to serve others without the barriers of time or mortality. 

If you can see this as a gift of love, perhaps you can then understand my hesitation in actually performing the work. I have no doubt it was the Spirit prompting me to take my father’s name to the temple and give to him the ultimate gift symbolizing my hope and desire for our future reunion. In my pain, anger, and confusion, I simply did not want to do it.

I covered the wound back up and went on with my life until April of 2018 when Elder Renlund gave a talk in General Conference about family history work. He said, “When God directs us to do one thing, He often has many purposes in mind … God, in His infinite capacity, seals and heals individuals and families despite tragedy, loss, and hardship.” As I listened to his talk, I felt keenly the promise that my wound would be completely healed, not just scabbed over, if I would undertake this work. Still, I procrastinated. Six or seven months later, we studied this talk in a Relief Society meeting at church. I felt that the promise of healing was mine for the taking, I just needed to go and claim it. If I wanted to know what my friend in Michigan learned through her reconciliation with her father, I could. If I was jealous of my half-sister, there was no need because I could still have the peace that she did. It was not too late. 

I still didn’t fully want to. I didn’t want to reopen that can of worms when it could just remain shut. I didn’t fully understand what the benefit was, but, trusting that the Lord gives good gifts and keeps his promises, I reached out to my new family members and gathered the information I needed. It took some time, but as I worked on it and thought about what I was doing, my hesitation turned to excitement. 

The wound is open, and it is clean. I am ready to be made whole.

There is no barrier the Lord cannot cross. Death is no obstacle, nor any fracture too wide or deep. The only thing the Lord will not take from us is our agency. We must claim the promise. Trusting Him with our wounds can be hard, especially when they’re still hurting, and we don’t know how long until the relief will come. But hope is powerful too, and we can trust Him that our hope will never be in vain because He will heal us. 

Elder Renlund also quoted Ezekiel 47:8-9 in his address:

The waters (meaning the river coming from the House of God) issue out … and go down into the desert, and go into the [dead] sea … , [and] the waters (meaning the Dead Sea) shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: … for they shall be healed; and everything shall live whither the river cometh.”

The river has come to my heart and my heart lives and is healed. I want the river to reach to my father’s heart and beyond. It is the greatest gift that I can offer him. My forgiveness, my hope that he can be healed as I have been, is how I honor my father. 

It is also how I honor my Heavenly Father. Separations in this life can always be mended. Unity is built across all barriers, and it is never too late to find it.

When Separations Bring Unity and Forgiveness Means Hope

It is important to know that the Lord does not always send us back to the person that has hurt us or that we have hurt. He does not always trust us with each other.

The spiritual experience I had in the temple helping me to love and trust my husband through painful difficulties (here) is one I treasure and count among my most powerful spiritual experiences. I have heard experiences from others that are just as powerful and spiritual yet have told them the opposite, that it was time for their marriage to end. The decision of when and how to seek, carve, and build unity is individual and dependent on those involved. However, even if one aspect or form of unity is at an end, the call to unity remains and separation is never complete nor permanent. 

The Book of Mormon begins with the story of one family. In this family there are three brothers that are spoken of most often. Laman and Lemuel are the eldest, but do not understand their father or the things of God. This causes many rebellions and jealousy of their younger brother, Nephi, who is spiritual.

In the second book of Nephi chapter 5, Nephi says he “[cried] much unto the Lord…because of the anger of [his] brethren” and then the Lord warned him that he “needed to depart from them and flee into the wilderness” (2Ne 5:1,5). When the anger and fighting became intense enough that his brothers sought to take his life, Nephi needed to leave. The Lord told him to separate. This is when the Book of Mormon stops telling the story of only one family and begins to contain the history of two warring nations. 

Even with all the war chapters in the Book of Mormon, it is not about how to hate and beat your enemies. It is about what divides us and what unites us. In the beginning, the Nephites are righteous and the Lamanites wicked, but then there’s all sorts of missionary work and switching roles and turning tables. Nephites that feel the Spirit want their bretheren, the Lamanites, to feel it too, and they serve missions. Then you have incredibly righteous Lamanites that prophecy to increasingly wicked Nephites. When the Savior comes, there are no more -ites, and they are one. God is at the heart of unity.

Just like Nephi, there are times when we must separate. If our lives, be it physical or spiritual, are threatened, we must protect ourselves. When love and trust are not present, it can be more dangerous to stay together than it is to separate. You may end up carving out something that is supposed to be there—your self-esteem, confidence in the Lord, or love for all mankind. To what extent and degree you need to separate is dependent upon your circumstance. 

But unity still lies ahead. 

In the Doctrine and Covenants section 64 verse 9, the Lord says, “he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” When I read this in my late teens, I thought instantly of someone I struggled to forgive but didn’t see how my sin could be any worse than his. Then I began to realize that I still wanted to prove to other people that I was right, he was wrong, I was better, and he was horrible. I wanted the Atonement for myself, to heal me of my pain and make me stronger, but was denying that same opportunity to my enemy. Could I really act as judge and decide who could or could not access the healing power of the Atonement? To do such would be to usurp the role of Christ whose power the Atonement actually is. That would be a serious blasphemy indeed. 

And yet, I worried. If I forgave, would I be vulnerable to more attacks? At the time, I thought that to forgive meant to ignore the past, pretend it didn’t happen, and I could not do that for fear of repeating it. As I prayed, the Spirit told me that forgiveness is hope. It is to hope that the person that hurt you will utilize the Atonement and follow Christ to have their own pains healed. This hope is safe because the healing power of the Atonement also comes with a change of heart so pronounced as to make one no longer desire to do evil. I did not need to be selfish in any way with the love and healing I had found. Doing so would not keep me any safer than sharing it would. 

 We are called upon to share and serve, to seek for unity through Christ, in different ways. We might be like Nephi, who was not called upon to serve a mission to his brethren after the separation but hoped for some distant future. Or we might be more like the Sons of Mosiah, who did feel a particular call and went personally to the Lamanites and served and loved many people. Other times, we may be preached to by a Samuel the Lamanite. However it comes, the call to forgive, to hope, and seek unity is present. 

We must be aware that one side is never completely in the right or wrong. We need to ask ourselves constantly, is it my turn to serve, or is it my turn to listen? Do I have this one right or am I wrong? A degree of separation can help us answer these questions honestly and with the help of the Spirit. 

I worried that a distinct separation between my husband and I would be necessary because his bitter anger towards the Church was intense during our time in Michigan. However, with an eye of hope towards the future, I saw that all I wanted was for my husband to feel the Spirit as I have and that meant knowing he was loved and trusted completely. He was not alone or abandoned, he was understood.

My husband and I attend different churches, we worship separately. But we still discuss our faith and what we gained from our worship. This bit of separation has helped both of us continue on our journeys, though they be different, together. 

There are times when each of us wishes the other would just close the gap. I wonder what it would take for him to come back to my church and he wonders why I still stay. I worry that he will see my staying as a sort of betrayal. I want him to understand why I stay, but, more importantly, I want him to know that I understand him. I want him to trust me with his fears and know that I will not dismiss them but will still stand with him.

We earn each other’s trust by allowing whatever separation we need while still preparing for unity now knowing it will come.

The call to unity is always worth answering because it is a call of hope and a journey fueled by love. 

Trust Comes Second

I love Hagar. She’s my favorite woman in the Old Testament. It’s not because she did anything particularly amazing, but of all the names that are given to God, hers is my favorite.

She was Sarai’s Egyptian handmaid and bore Ishmael, Abram’s first son. When she fled from Sarai, an Angel of the Lord came to her. She thereafter called God, “Thou God seest me” (Genesis 16:13). I love this name, because what we most fear and what we most want, is to be seen. We want to be seen correctly, for who we really are and that, to be frank, rarely happens.

Hagar was not seen correctly by Sarai or Abram, who seemed to think of her more as a possession, than a human being. She was seen by everyone as a slave, a bondwoman. When she managed to do something that her own mistress could not, she felt this proved she was more than a slave. Can you blame her?

Sarai must have been worried about her inability to conceive. Perhaps, because it was the custom at the time, she feared it meant she had not found favor with God and that He despised her. If this was how Sarai measured God’s love, is it any wonder then, that a woman who had so little love would rejoice to see any evidence of favor?

I completely understand why this would have gone over into bragging. I know what it is to have people treat you as if you are something that you are not. To lie about you and refuse to acknowledge who you really are. I felt like I could do nothing right. They all hated me without knowing me and any attempt to reach out made things worse. The only thing I could do was get good grades at school, so I did that. I put everything I had into school. They started to call me arrogant and any mistake I made was emphasized and laughed over ten times worse as they all jeered and called me stupid.

All you want is for someone to actually see the truth—to see the real you.

It can be difficult to fight off their lies and judgements of you. You can only do it if you can see who you truly are. If you can see yourself the way God sees you.

Hagar feels like my spiritual sister because I see my own pain in her story, and she helped me to my own salvation—to find the God that sees me.

The Lord sent her back to submit to Sarai. This, I have struggled with. Decades after my own pain has passed, I continue to think about my sister Hagar. I think she was sent back because the Lord knew Abram would become Abraham and Sarai would become Sarah. Though they were blinded at this time and followed their culture without considering the view of God, God knew He could trust them.

Whenever I see the word “worthy” in scriptures, I put the word “trust” in front of it. This is to prevent me from equating worthiness with love or importance. God loves all His children, but let’s be honest, a lot of the time, He can’t trust us. Trust comes with time and experience as bonds grow tighter. God needs to rely on us, that we will do what we say when we accept His guidance and revelation.

We also need to rely on each other. To trust that our close friends will not judge us harshly, will take the time to get to know us, will not jump to conclusions, will ask us questions if they don’t understand instead of avoiding us altogether for comfort’s sake.

When the Lord told me my husband was worthy, I think He meant that my husband was worthy of love, but, more than that, He meant that my husband was worthy of my trust and worthy of the time and effort it would take for me to earn his trust as well.

God could see us both. He knew that this change in marriage and family plans had me scared and I was reliving those terrible years of depression, afraid that it would happen all over again. He knew that my husband was facing his own fears. Seeing this, as well as who we could become, God trusted us with each other.

All the difficult questions, the hard conversations were how we built our trust in one another again. Love comes first, trust comes second, and then they feed off of each other and grow together. When both are present, unity can be found.

Love Comes First

In his book, “In Faith and In Doubt,” Dale McGowan emphasizes shared values over shared beliefs, and I understand his point. I share values with many people who have different beliefs, and I share beliefs with people who have different values. I also think people have more values in common than they realize. But, to me, values and beliefs are linked. My beliefs impact my daily life because I live them in my values. When I married, I wanted it to be with someone who shared beliefs and values so we could help each other live those values more fully and grow in our beliefs.

I always thought my spouse was supposed to be the person with whom I had the most in common. The one I could trust above everyone else because he understood me better than anyone else. This understanding, I thought, would come from commonality. 

After his faith crisis, my husband seemed so different and far away. I asked myself, what is the most basic and necessary thing we have to have in common and how much commonality is sufficient for us to continue in a marriage?

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a unique doctrine concerning the Godhead which differs from the Trinity. The characteristics of God are the same. However, we believe in three separate beings, each with their own unique differences and roles, and yet completely united as to be One God. 

Their differences are necessary for the full and complete Plan of Salvation to be realized. Father, already Exalted and Supreme, had the knowledge and power to conceive and begin the plan. Christ, not yet exalted and universally loved, could show us how to complete the plan and become exalted as He now is. The Holy Ghost, electing to stay as Spirit, is divinely able to be a testifier and comforter by speaking Spirit to spirit with us and live with us as we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. 

They each play their own part in their united plan to achieve their shared goal—the salvation and exaltation of God’s children.

I love the lessons of unity to be seen within the Godhead. Christ repeatedly asks that we be one with Him as He is one with the Father. He says if we are not one, we are not His. We cannot be one being when we are separate individuals. How are we to do this?  

We must be united in purpose and fulfill our roles in the Plan of Salvation. We are to embrace differences and use them to complete a whole that we could not do on our own. We are not all capable of performing the same roles. We all make up the body of the Church with our different talents, our different experiences and perspectives. The Godhead works together to complete the work of God. They have joined together on one common goal and have agreed upon the plan that will complete that goal.

What does this mean for finding unity with each other? Specifically, even though my husband and I had many values in common, were we still too different in our goals and our plans? Did we have a unifying purpose?

Growing up, I always felt too different and too alone. Being alone is one of my greatest fears. A bit ironic for someone who is as introverted as I am. I highly value time to myself but hate to be lonely. To lose my husband, my closest companion, made me feel severely lonely. 

I went to the temple by myself, and I felt even lonelier. There is a portion of the temple service that requires you to stand as couples, a man and woman together. Because I didn’t have my husband, I didn’t feel like participating, even though I wanted to. But here’s the thing, if you want to participate, you just stand up. Someone will come and stand with you. You don’t have to be married or even know each other. You just stand together. 

As the prayer was said, I felt the power of the faith of those present. We were all connected by it. Like a gold ribbon that pulsed and shone brighter as each person added their voice in a united prayer of faith, it ran through every person in the room, and then across temples and the world. I felt so connected to my Brothers and Sisters that all loneliness fled and was replaced by incredible love. I thought of the Brother that stood with me and wondered if that would happen in the next life too. If I had to go on alone, would one of my Brothers stand with me and help me when I needed it? Was I to leave my husband and know that doing so would not leave me alone because I would always have my Brothers and Sisters with me?

Suddenly, all the love I felt from all my Spiritual Family shifted and became focused on my husband. The Lord said, “I know it’s hard for you to love your husband right now, so, here, borrow some of my love for him and know that he is worthy.”

The only thing that could possibly be more amazing than feeling how much the Lord loves you is feeling how much the Lord loves someone else. 

I think of all the people who say they have similar goals—to improve our country, to help the poor—and yet, still can’t seem to work together. Sure, they can’t agree on the same plan to achieve those goals, but ultimately that’s because they do not love or respect those who could be their partners. 

When love and respect are present, common goals and an agreed upon plan can be found. These are the foundation for unity. It is hard work to carve away at your assumptions, fears, and pride. It takes a level of honesty that most of us run from. Love provides the fuel for that work. It is the most necessary component. 

My husband and I have many shared goals, though we might not phrase them or define them in the same way. We want our children to feel loved and happy, while learning responsibility, hard work, and generosity. Because we love and respect the other’s needs, we are able to find a plan of action that we both agree on and do our part in that plan. Love must come first. 

Carving Out Assumptions and Getting to Truth

I think of unity with yourself and unity with God as pre-requisites for finding unity with others, but they will never be complete without the third.  You will need other people to see yourself clearly and to help you get closer to God.

 Seeking unity with other people will challenge you. You might feel insulted and dismissed at times, and if you haven’t made a start at seeing your whole self—acknowledging your faults while also looking forward to your incredible potential—you can very easily lose yourself. Our longing for love and belonging can cause us to accept another’s view instead of our own simply for the sake of having a view.

If you do not have a relationship with God—a comfort with and ability to get your own revelations and answers from Him—you will accept another’s without any clarification or confirmation. Doing this will result in a relationship that replaces God, and other people will block your view of Him.

With all the difficulties that come from seeking unity with others and having challenging conversations, there are tremendous benefits. Those closest to us sometimes see us more clearly than we see ourselves, questions we never thought to ask will bring us the answers we always wanted, and to love others is godly.

When my husband first told me of his faith crisis, I was mad at him, then mad at myself, then mad at God, then mad at him again, and the cycle continued. I thought he didn’t actually want answers because he wasn’t listening to mine. His doubts weren’t any different from questions I’d had before and if I found answers, why couldn’t he? Then I thought I wasn’t explaining it right; I wasn’t smart enough or good enough at answering his questions. I doubted my own answers. Then nothing made sense, and if God had given me experiences where I could definitively say, “That was the Spirit,” why wasn’t my husband given those same types of experiences? He has always been in many ways a better “Mormon” than I have ever been, so he deserved to have spiritual experiences just as much if not more than I did. Maybe he was right, and it was all in my head. A psychological interpretation according to the worldview that was taught to me from my youth of things that were otherwise inexplicable or too hard for my brain to process.

I had to take a step back. I needed to think through everything again, for myself, in as honest a way as possible. This meant acknowledging where I was unsure but also where I was indeed certain. It meant taking things back to God and asking for clarifications and confirmations. It meant combing through the past and thinking of what it all meant for the present, and what I wanted for the future.

In some ways, I had to do this for myself, but I was not alone, because my husband and I did this together.

We largely credit the book In Faith and In Doubt by Dale McGowan for helping us through this process. In this book, McGowan outlines the wide spectrum of believers and non-believers and encourages conversations between couples to learn what your partner actually believes instead of relying on stereotypes or official doctrine. He cites studies and surveys but also provides some questions for you to learn more about your partner and yourself.

There is a quiz in the book to help you see how dogmatic you are—religious and non-religious people are capable of dogmatism, which is essentially the belief that you are right and leaving no room for the possibility of contrary evidence. I’m actually more dogmatic than I thought I was, but only on specific statements and I give a lot of room for others to see things differently. I will still think I’m right, but I acknowledge the validity of their view and give them space to find their own way. I would never force my belief on someone else and I would never belittle anyone, as much as I may try to educate and continue in my own way.

My husband specifically remembers the values quiz, which helped us see that while our beliefs are different our values are aligned. He also remembers a story of a Mormon couple in a similar situation that did not turn out well. Their descriptions made him think, “Christen is nothing like this,” and gave him hope that our ending could be different.

I didn’t particularly agree with or like the author’s descriptions of religion, to me they are too cultural in nature, but they did help my husband. Ultimately, it helped both of us move on from fighting over who had the better definition of “Mormonism” and instead try to discover what the other person actually believed. He discovered that he was making several assumptions about what I believed based on his understanding of my religion but stopped trying to define my religion for me. I learned to listen for what he was actually looking for and stopped trying to get him to see things my way. Together, we realized we have a lot of fundamentals in common.

At one point, I prayed and begged Heavenly Father to send a spiritual experience to my husband that he would not be able to deny was the Spirit and could then find a reason to have faith again. I reasoned that because my husband had always done everything that was asked of him and been obedient, he deserved and needed such an experience. In response, the Lord helped me see that we often get things tangled in our minds and in praying about one thing we are in fact praying about several. In other words, we want to know if A is true, but we erroneously assume that A and B are inseparably connected, so even though we are only talking about A, we are inadvertently asking about B as well.

Sometimes this doesn’t cause a problem. Even if B is wrong, the Lord can still confirm the truth of A in order to help us move forward and then correct us later. There are other times, however, when B is so wrong that to even indirectly confirm it would cause us to go down the wrong path. Therefore, God cannot testify of the truth of A because it is too tangled with a falsehood that must be corrected first.

To find truth and move forward, we must untangle our assumptions. Go through and think about one thing at a time and build the connections thoughtfully instead of inadvertently.

I realized that I could not understand the full extent of what my husband was praying and thinking about because I also had my own tangled up assumptions to work through. Working through it together, being sure to listen as the other described their faith goals and beliefs, helped us both realize what assumptions we were making. It’s nearly impossible to see what you’re overlooking by yourself. You need someone else with a fresh perspective to help you.

There are times when it is exhausting to have every little thing turn into a discussion. For example, how and why do we have family prayer? For many in my religion this is a given, too obvious to even warrant thinking about. But I had to think through why I wanted to have family prayers and what benefits I was hoping to gain. We listened to each other as we spoke of our concerns about having or not having family prayer. Together, we had to design a family prayer program where we both felt represented, concerns were met, and maximum benefits achieved. Did we put more thought into our family prayers than I otherwise would have? Yes. Do I get more benefits from family prayer than I ever have before? Absolutely. Our family prayers are fabulous, and I love them.

In the end, my husband’s faith crisis challenged my faith but did not diminish it. All the difficult conversations strengthened my faith. Instead of making assumptions, I learned to look from multiple angles and thus have a clearer and more developed view of the whole.

Problem 3: I am mad at others

This post is a part of “my story” which begins with “Finding Purpose”

The worst part of Michigan was the loneliness. We were too far away from family for frequent visits. My depression and anger caused me to retreat into myself, and my husband’s faith crisis kept me from talking to him about any of it.

Before Michigan, when my husband first told me about his doubts about the church, I was completely blindsided. It didn’t make any sense. He has always been a very righteous man doing everything he ought to do. I kept thinking there was just some misunderstanding, but questioning and probing him was frustrating for both of us. He became depressed and anxious and started going to counseling while still coming to church. Afraid to tell family and friends, he struggled to maintain a Mormon cultural identity.

In Michigan, his anger and bitterness towards the church became more pronounced. We fought more, about church things, and also about other stuff. Ironically, on Sundays he would usually get mad at me for dragging my feet because I wasn’t in the mood to go most of the time. I was not forcing him to go. One day he told me that he realized he fought with me more as Sunday grew closer because he didn’t want to go to church and I thought, hallelujah, then just stop going to church!  

But getting rid of church didn’t help us connect more, it just became a taboo subject. His anger meant that when I tried to discuss my feelings of guilt or my bitterness towards God, he blamed it on the Church and its leaders. I felt my personal feelings were completely dismissed. In my opinion, my feelings, my faith have very little to do with the leadership of the Church. They’re wonderful men, and their lessons are helpful. But my faith is my own. My husband was not understanding me, and I could not understand him.

His faith crisis was also the end of a dream for me. Having grown up without easy access to Priesthood blessings, it was my greatest wish to have a husband that could give me a Priesthood blessing whenever I wanted one. I wanted my children to understand Priesthood by seeing it in their own home. I wanted a husband who would help me have family scripture study, prayer, and Family Home Evening. I wanted to have the kind of family others seemed to have in the Church but that I never did. 

Similar to my failure to get a Ph.D., and my mother’s healing going to my step-father, I felt like everything I wanted was lost. My desires didn’t matter. No one was looking out for me. I was completely alone. I started to envision leaving everything behind. It seemed that since all of my former dreams were dead, and I had to start over, that I might as well start over completely, by myself. 

Would anyone actually even care if I left? Perhaps because my biological father had left me, I knew the answer was “yes.” My kids would always need to know that I loved them. My husband also needed to know that I loved him—a faith crisis didn’t make him a bad person.

We often assume that differences hinder unity, but in fact, unity requires differences. A common goal and respect for the contributions of others are all that is really necessary. From there we can continue to carve away at the things that come between us. It may require difficult conversations to find that common goal, but we need one another to feel heard and understood. We need to understand. 

 These divisions—within ourselves, between us and god, and with each other—represent all the ways we struggle to find unity. Part of why I can never leave Michigan behind is that I still get mad at myself, I’m still infuriated by unfairness in the world, and I get frustrated when other people don’t see things my way. I’ve since noticed that lots of problems and trials, regardless of the circumstances, can be boiled down to a sense of division in at least one of these areas. That also means that seeking unity in these areas will bring healing and the power to solve problems and overcome challenges.