We have had a missionary who is struggling with some great personal tragedy in his life. It is heart breaking to think of what he is going through and to watch what he is experiencing. He often asks, “Why isn’t God answering my prayers?” From the outside looking in, (the easy way to see clearly; when you’re not going through it yourself), I’m thinking, “He is answering your prayers: you’ve had some amazing spiritual dreams that have answered your prayers in dramatic ways, you’ve been brought to serve a mission here when the Lord would know you would be facing very hard things, and you are surrounded by people who love you and can care for you right now. He feels these things at times, but just can’t hold on to them long enough to let them really comfort or strengthen him for more than a day, and then it seems he starts over again wondering why He is going through this and why isn’t God answering his prayers.
In times of deep pain or disappointment we can all feel like the Lord is right there giving us answers, but we can’t hold on to them. We may feel a moment of peace or comfort, but then go right back into the same feelings of pain. Sometimes the Lord may give dramatic spiritual experiences, but most of the time the Lord gives only whisperings deep in our heart that can be so hard to hear and recognize.
This experience has caused me to reflect on two things. The first one is spiritual experiences in my own life. When we were new into the mission I was asked to speak on temple attendance. I started doing the math to figure out how many times we had been to the temple since we had been married. We figured the conservative estimate was over 800 times. I started thinking of the really huge spiritual experiences I had had in the temple: I was in a sealing session and felt a deep understanding of the divinity of women opened up to my eyes. I understood the subtle influences of pride and how satan uses pride to keep us from God. I felt charity; the pure love of Christ, for an amazing 20 min or so during and after a sealing session. It was the most amazing feeling of love I have ever experienced; I couldn’t stop crying my body couldn’t even hold it. One time while doing an initiatory I understood what something in my patriartical blessing said that I had wondered about for 25 years. When I was really praying for God’s to strengthen my faith, but feeling what more could he possible give me, while waiting for an initiatory to start, He showed me in the most profound way what He could do instantly to show me the reality of His existence and awareness of me. I understood how holy and sacred marriage is to the Lord once while in a sealing session. I understood how all the ordinances fit together for the first time while doing an initiatory session recently.
These are all tags in my brain. I wrote all of them down at once, just now for a purpose. I just counted them up. There are seven. Seven experiences out of over 800 times attending the temple! I have had a few less dramatic experiences happen where I felt amazing love, knowledge of what to do for a child, a change of heart, knowledge I didn’t have before, whisperings of understanding, etc. Maybe 60 or 70 times of that kind of thing. But for the other 700+ times I’ve gone I’ve just felt a good feeling, nothing amazing or abnormal, no great knowledge or awareness, just a whispering of good.
It is such a testimony to me, that we put ourselves in holy places like prayer, scriptures, church and temple because we are waiting upon the Lord. He will fill us as we put ourselves in a position to receive. It won’t always be dramatic, most of the time it will be just a drop; a whisper, a good feeling, a subtle bit of knowledge. But gradually we have a filled bucket of spiritual experiences, or a full lamp of oil. We never know when it will come, but we put ourselves there because it increases the chances we will receive some bit of light.
The reality is the Lord wont spoon feed us with dramatic spiritual experiences every time he wants to communicate with us. He expects us to feel, think and act with just subtle promptings from Him. Although at times He may give us more powerful experiences, my experience is most of the time we just have to trust whisperings. (I can hear those better when I turn my brain off and listen to my heart.) The tragedy is when we won’t receive or listen because we want Him to speak on our terms, not His.
The other thing I’ve been thinking about as I have watched this young man’s heart break is how comforting the doctrine of opposition is. I’ve never really thought about it in such a profound way as I have this week. I had an experience, (another one of those, Yes we are real people experiences), last weekend that put knowledge right into my heart about opposition. I think the Lord has been trying to get it from my head into my heart for some time.
I have mentioned before that our family has been struggling with some very difficult challenges. It’s kind of layers of things and I have received layers of understanding as we have worked to hold on. Don and I have not gone unaffected as we have both worked to accept.
When we learn new ways of doing things or things we need to change, Don and I have to adjust the balance of our relationship. It rocks the boat a bit and we have to work through it. One of these times was last Sunday morning. We had been talking during the weekend about things we needed to do in order to help our family and Sunday morning we were doing some more exploring to help improve the situation. (To be clear we weren’t arguing but we weren’t feeling the spirit either.) The boat was being rocked and we were trying to adjust. It wasn’t great timing since we had to speak in Stake Conference and I was giving a 15 min talk. (How ironic that it was on how wives can support their husbands in leading the family. God has such a sense of humor.) I have often heard investigators talk about feeling the spirit so strong as they enter the chapel. I personally have never felt this feeling. It just feels normal to me when I enter the chapel. It feels good. But last Sunday as I entered the chapel I felt such a powerful difference from the turmoil I had been feeling all weekend. Peace settled on me, calm came over me, I felt the spirit in the music, spirit in every talk, sprit speaking words to my mind. It was so different than the way I was feeling before. The feeling of opposition I felt so quickly bore powerful testimony to me of the truthfulness of how real the spirit it, how wonderful peace is, how amazing spiritual feelings are.
Later that day I was reading in 2 Nephi 2:11. (It’s the doctrine of opposition.)…There must needs be an opposition in all things. If not…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad….neither happiness or misery. 12. Without opposition the earth would have been created for nothing.
This really hit me. We know what something feels like when we experience the opposite. This is exactly why God created the earth. His purpose in creating the earth and the plan of happiness was that we would experience the good and the evil, happiness and misery, holiness and wickedness. 14. And these things would be for our profit and learning. 16. God gave to man agency; that he should act for himself, being enticed by the one or the other. Being free to choose.
I don’t know, maybe I’m weird but this doctrine is sooooo comforting to me. There really is a purpose for our pain. From the beginning of time, these hard things were meant to be…..and we wanted it. Sometimes that is just craziness to me, when the pain gets so deep. But when I am through the pain and regain an eternal perspective I can feel the profit and learning that comes. And the profit and learning is so sweet and so valuable. We just have to stay with Him and let Him get us through it; creating a place in our heart to receive and keep the light He is trying to put there. And then it’s just so good, because we know the difference.