Sunday, November 27, 2016

My path to deeper faith.

At our mission reunion a few months ago I wanted to share a message.  I didn’t really feel like it went very well though. It was a big group, we were outside, and there was some other distractions going on.  What I really wanted to communicate was something about faith that is deeper than I have ever understood before.  It’s personal and important to me so I thought I would write it to you in hopes that you will read it and understand.    To make it as meaningful to you as I would like it to be, (because I think the message is important), I need to be honest about what we’ve been going through.

I am realizing in my life I secretly thought everything would always work out; like even though you know life is full of struggles and trials my secret heart had a plan that went something like: all my kids would be physically, spiritually and emotionally healthy, get good grades, go to college, and get married and have kids.  I thought we would always be financially blessed and have a job.  I thought we would be physically healthy and always be able to fix anything that came our way.  You know, the usually stuff, right?

I don’t think we know anything really until we experience it for ourselves.

I never thought I would have a gay son who would become addicted to meth.  I never thought I would have another son have depression and anxiety so bad that he would feel abandoned by God and us and leave the church.  I never thought Don’s health would deteriorate within days of us returning home from our mission. I never thought my mother would die weeks after returning home from our mission.  And I never considered it would be so hard to find full time work after coming home from our mission.

I have been in a world of hurt and in a refiner’s fire that seems to have been going on for years now.  It felt like we were in the frying pan on our mission as we dealt with a lot of it while we were serving, but then we jumped right into the fire when we got home.   I didn’t even care what I was supposed to be learning from all of it for almost the first year after returning home.  My energy was in surviving and holding on, certainly not in learning anything from it.  But in the last 6 months I have adjusted a little and have been seeking after what the Lord wants me to gain from all of this life stuff; to bring meaning to it all. So here it is:

I feel I’ve been learning a layer of submission to God’s will that is very deep and requires a great amount of faith and trust.  I haven’t been pleased about it, perfect at it, or graceful through it.  I think I have screamed, cried, begged, blamed, and even withdrawn through it all.  This layer of submission has required a price from me that I could never have understand in those easier days when I prayed, “Thy will be done” and “Please help me be what I need to be to live with thee again.”  In the very deepest times of my sorrow I couldn’t even believe I ever prayed stuff like that.  I obviously had no idea what kind of price that would entail.  I certainly know I didn’t have the slightest understanding of what I was raising my hand to and shouting about when I wanted to come down to earth and experience all these things for myself.    But here I am experiencing what I asked for.

I thought I was doing good at being good, obedient, serving, loving and trusting. But as I look back even that was easy, when things were easy.  But what I’m coming to understand is there is a different level of obedience, serving, loving and trusting required when things aren’t going well.   It’s a refiners fire to trust when prayers don’t seem to be answered, obedient when expected blessings don’t happen, serving when everything you’ve worked and sacrificed for falls apart, and loving when loved ones who are free to choose, chose something so opposite than what you stand for.

I think God has been trying to teach me a different layer of understanding of His plan and His will.  I read a book by Neil A. Maxwell called “Not My Will, But Thine”, (The Christ like path of submission to God’s will).   He said something that hit me so hard, “Faith is strongest when it is without illusion”.  This speaks to my very heart and soul.  He says in these few words what I would try to say in volumes and still not speak very well about.  It seems to me my whole life is being wrapped around this principle.  “Faith is strongest when it is without illusion.”

I think my faith was kind of na├»ve before.  It’s easy to have faith when prayers are answered, you can see blessings, things fall into place like you think they will.  Looking back I kind of think I have been in a bubble my whole life. Prayers were answered, things turned out, stuff fell into place, problems were solved, I thought something and it seemed like I could make it happen.  Yes, I had trials and challenges, definitely.  But I faced them, worked on them, prayed for help, and got through them, and learned stuff along the way.  Elder Maxwell calls that kind of life, K-12, lessons and experiences.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13 it says, “We undergo afflictions such as are common to man”.  That was what I think I was living; afflictions that were common to man.  But Elder Maxwell says, “God will deliberately give us further lessons and experience which take us beyond the curriculum common to man and on into uncommon graduate studies or even post-doctoral discipleship.  These trials are often the most difficult to bear.”

I feel like that!  I am not in elementary school anymore.  I hope this is post-doctoral work in my life though and it won’t get any worse! 

Hold on tight because, if “Faith is strongest when it is without illusion” then we can know that is what the Lord wants to take us all too.  Faith without illusion.

So my message to you is this: Faith is not in a certain outcome happening in your life.  Faith is not in people, things, events or blessings.  You may not get married.  Will you still be faithful?  You may not get that certain job.  Will you still believe?  You may not be able to have children, your parents or siblings may die, your health may fail.  You’re belief in a God who loves you cannot be based on those things happening in your life!  He does love you.  He is real and knows you.  But He won’t always babysit you through life.  He won’t always make it easy to believe.

My testimony has become this and this only: My Faith and Hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ that all things will work together for good to those that love Him.  I am learning that that is the sure foundation.  Any other faith will fail.  You will be tossed to and fro if your faith is on something happening in your life the way you think it should happen. 

My message is: You can trust Him.  You must trust Him.  He is the way for all things to work for your good, no matter what you go through.  Hold on, He will get you there.  If you will ask and Listen, He will speak and you can receive guidance and direction that will get you back to peace, strength, confidence, happiness.

Elder Maxwell says it like this, “We submit to God because He is God.  We may safely and rationally do so because He is perfect-perfect in the attributes of love, mercy, justice, knowledge, patience and so forth.”  

I think the path to faith without illusion can be devastating, heart breaking and full of anguish as to what is happening to us and around us.  But we can still know that God loves us, we can communicate with him, and he has given us a Savior and the Holy Spirit that will help us in all things. 

What we become will be the evidence that we were, “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon the children of men, even as a child doth submit to his father: (Mos 3:19)   
I haven’t been able to write in this blog for 16 months.  I have had a block against it.  It has had something to do with surviving, no energy, no desire, nothing to say and my old pal, fear.  But I have learned so much along this journey. I believe the Lord with all my heart.  I know that I believe Him.  He has told me a thousand times in the last 3 years, “Hold on, I’ll get you there.”  And He has. 

Nothing in my situation has changed. At least nothing on the outside has changed.   But I have changed.  I’m not surviving anymore.  I’m good.  Life is so good.  I’ve actually learned a lot.  And He has done that.  I can finally hold on to the whispering in my heart that says, “It will all be ok in the end.”  That is exactly what Christ’s promise is: With Him we won’t have to suffer as He suffered, His chastisement will bring us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.  I’m not saying it is always easy.  I would never say that.  But I’m saying, “If you will hold on He will get you to peace, understanding and healing.  And that is everything.”