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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lectures on Faith 1, Part 1: When God -- And Hope -- Eludes You

"The author of the epistle to the Hebrews, in the eleventh chapter of that epistle, and first verse, gives the following definition of the word faith:
Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
From this we learn, that faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen; and the principle of action in all intelligent beings." (Lecture on Faith 1:7-9)
"Faith Crisis" is a pretty popular term these days in the media and on the internet. In most cases, it refers to one's struggle with particular church doctrines, teachings, policies, procedures or how a church is led or managed.

But go look at the comments of one of my previous posts. As you can see, there are some good, humble, God-fearing people struggling with a different kind of faith crisis. They struggle with having faith in Jesus Christ.

Maybe it's the infertile couple who sits through a multitude of baby blessings at church. Or the family coping with a family member's incurable medical or psychological condition. Or holding your head up high despite knowing your spouse wants nothing to do with church or God. Or struggling to just get out of bed after having a miscarriage or lost a job. Or moving one foot in front of the other after the death of a loved one. Or trying to live life with memories of abuse still lingering in the back of your head. Maybe it's just feeling, or even being, alone.

Maybe you asked for a priesthood blessing, and all you got was that generic "God is aware of you. God loves you" statement (Really? Is that the best, most personalized reassurance a God can give their child?). Maybe you turned to God for answers or relief. You may have even begged Him, pleaded Him, for help. But all you got in return was silence and solitude.

Perhaps you surmised that the silence meant that you were unworthy of His response, so you either tried (in vain) to be the perfect person (in order to gain His favor), or you sunk further into hopelessness, helplessness, despair and depression, hoping your brokenness might just grab His attention.
"How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?" (Psalm 13:1-2)

When I Ascended From Hell


In April, 2014, I felt a lot of those emotions I described above. At the time, I had been experiencing some pretty bad clinical depression. That month, one of my children received a very bad medical diagnosis. In the second week of May, the entire section at my work was eliminated, and I was laid off of my job. Two weeks after that, a trusted friend of mine betrayed my trust in a very unjustified, hurtful, malicious way. A week after that, my sister passed away. The day after that, my extended family disowned me (part of the price I pay for being LDS).

The physical, emotional and spiritual pain was unbearable. Even though my closest friends were aware of some of what was going on, they didn't know the whole story. It felt like I was being sent through one of those old-time washing machines (the kind that would squeeze water out of the clothes).

Then one morning, it happened. I saw the coolest looking sunrise ever. I mean, this one was the sunrise to beat all sunrises. And as I saw it, I felt blessed. I told others about the sunrise, and said I felt blessed. Later, I saw one of my children excel at something, and told my wife I felt blessed for seeing it. I would awake and feel blessed that I could see and hear and walk and talk and not have pain. I would tell people I felt blessed when I started making an income again. I would feel blessed when the perfect song with the perfect lyrics would play on the radio at the perfect time. I would tell people I was blessed when they would call and say they felt motivated to tell me to "keep moving forward" (really cool -- when 7 people who don't know each other called within 4 days, all with the same message).

And then, one night, as I was alone, an even greater blessing came -- one that I hadn't expected. Amidst the tears and a lifetime of guilt and inadequacy, I asked Him why I just went through hell.

His reply: "I needed you to descend lower, and still keep your eyes on me, so you could qualify for the blessing I'm giving you now."

My life has NEVER been the same since that night in June, 2014.

"the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"


We often look at our lives as a snapshot in time. And sometimes, that picture isn't very pretty. I know it can be downright ugly and unfair.

Yet God looks at your life differently. He sees the entire motion picture of your life -- not just the here and now, but from waaaay back (when  you were an intelligence) to the far-flung future (when you're on a spiritual plane far higher than this one), and all points in between.

God has said that He'll always have your best interests at heart. He's said that His work and glory is to bring about your immortality and eternal life. He's also said that He'll never leave you, and that He'll always be with you...every step of the way. If that's true, then He'd ought to be out there, somewhere. Find-able. Discoverable. Discernable.

In my journey of April-June 2014, I learned a few things:

1. If you're going through a really tough time (aka a "descent"), chances are, it's the prelude to an ascent. Rabbi Nachman put it best:
"Spiritual descent is necessary for spiritual ascent: When a man has to rise from one level to the next, prior to his ascent, he must first undergo a descent. The paradox is that the very purpose of the descent is the ascent. From this you can see how much strength is required in the service of God. Even when you fall or descend in any way, you must never allow yourself to be thrown off balance to the extent that you come to look down upon yourself or to hold yourself in contempt." (Rabbi Nachman, trans. Avraham Greenbaum, Likutey Moharan, "Restore My Soul" [Monsey & Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 1980], p. 16-17; here; read more here).
The ultimate exemplar of this is Jesus Christ, who descended below all things.  He was born in the lowliest of circumstances.  He went among the sinners, was despised, betrayed and ultimately killed.
"He comprehended all things" by suffering every individual act of frustration, sadness and pain ever experienced in the history of earth so He could know how to help us rise above our daily difficulties (D&C 88:6; see also D&C 122:8).
In so doing, a magnificent outcome emerged: he ascended above all things...to the right hand of the Father.
"Therefore, let us not resent those tutoring experiences which can develop our own empathy further (see Alma 7:11-12).  So being admitted fully to 'the fellowship of his sufferings' requires the full dues of discipleship (Philip. 3:10; see also 1 Cor. 1:9)." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Plow in Hope", April 2001 General Conference)
2. Persist in asking for your ascent. Luke 18:1-8's story of the persistent widow is a lesson about persevering in prayer. Actually, most scriptural prayer stories are. How many times did it take Elijah to call down the promised rain? Not once; not twice; eight rounds of all-of-your-heart-soul-mind-and-strength prayer. In Acts 12, Herod seized James and executed him. He then arrested Peter and put him in jail. The outcome looked the same. But the story shifted with the phrase, “But the church was praying very earnestly for him” (v. 5). The Greek for “very earnestly” is the same description of Jesus' serious prayers in Gethsemane. The text also indicates that the church prayed for Peter all night long. It worked; Peter was rescued. Then we have Enos' prayer:
"And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens." (Enos 1:4)
No wonder Joseph advised that we "Come to God weary him until he blesses you" ([recorded in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, 78–79] cited in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [1980], 15; https://www.lds.org/manual/book-of-mormon-student-manual/chapter-50-ether-1-5?lang=eng)

3. Keep an eye out for the ascent. Get out of your own comfort zone or pity party and look for the blessings He's constantly sending you. It's like learning a new language. Maybe you've become so accustomed to hearing God on a lower wavelength, that when He increases the wavelength to a higher one, you don't hear Him anymore. But the harder you look, the more you'll find those highs and lows, the peaks and valleys, of his increased frequency. Then before you know it, you're ON that higher wavelength.

Sometimes you're going to find His responses in the Temple. Sometimes, it'll be in your bedroom or living room, or out in the middle of nowhere, away from Babylon. Sometimes it'll be in a dream, sometimes it'll be in the scriptures.

But can I give you some free, unsolicited advice? I believe one of God's favorite ways to help us is by inspiring another to help us. Sometimes, the most effective angels are those with flesh.
"Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together." (D&C 50:22)
4. Then, once you've found that blessing, acknowledge it to others. You actually breathe new life into that blessing, and try to extend it to others. My friend, Vincent, is on a level of coolness that's really, really high. When people ask how he's doing, his response is both accurate and electrifying: "I am blessed."

You just never know where God's answers are going to come from. Sometimes we look for solutions which are seemingly elusive, but in reality, they're right under our noses. The answer to Joseph Smith's question of which church to join was embedded in James 1:5. A sunrise started my ascension from a type of hell in 2014. And, I have no doubt, the people who are experiencing problems (as mentioned in the comments of this blog post) found some answers that'll help them.

Those are some substantive, active strategies. They're reassuring of things hoped for, and evidence of things not seen, but very, very real.
"Were this class to go back and reflect upon the history of their lives, from the period of their first recollection, and ask themselves, what principle excited them to action, or what gave them energy and activity, in all their lawful avocations, callings and pursuits, what would be the answer? Would it not be that it was the assurance which we had of the existence of things which we had not seen, as yet?—Was it not the hope which you had, in consequence of your belief in the existence of unseen things, which stimulated you to action and exertion, in order to obtain them? Are you not dependent on your faith, or belief, for the acquisition of all knowledge, wisdom and intelligence? Would you exert yourselves to obtain wisdom and intelligence, unless you did believe that you could obtain them? Would you have ever sown if you had not believed that you would reap? Would you have ever planted if you had not believed that you would gather? Would you have ever asked unless you had believed that you would receive? Would you have ever sought unless you had believed that you would have found? Or would you have ever knocked unless you had believed that it would have been opened unto you? In a word, is there any thing that you would have done, either physical or mental, if you had not previously believed? Are not all your exertions, of every kind, dependent on your faith? Or may we not ask, what have you, or what do you possess, which you have not obtained by reason of your faith? Your food, your raiment, your lodgings, are they not all by reason of your faith? Reflect, and ask yourselves, if these things are not so. Turn your thoughts on your own minds, and see if faith is not the moving cause of all action in yourselves; and if the moving cause in you, is it not in all other intelligent beings?
And as faith is the moving cause of all action in temporal concerns, so it is in spiritual; for the Savior has said, and that truly, that he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. (Mark 16:16)
As we receive by faith, all temporal blessings that we do receive, so we, in like manner, receive by faith all spiritual blessings, that we do receive. But faith is not only the principle of action, but of power, also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven, or on earth. Thus says the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. (11:3)" (Lecture on Faith 1:11-13)

A Real-Life Example of Descent to Ascent


My descent story pales in comparison to Lucy Kay's. When growing up, Lucy was bullied for over a decade, picked on due to -- believe it or not -- her love of classical music. The bullying was so intense, that it forced her family to move. Lucy confessed, "I wondered what it would be like if I was dead. I felt worthless, like I couldn’t go on and I hated seeing how worried I was making my mum. I did question my right to be on this earth, I couldn’t understand why they thought it was so wrong I should like different music."

By age 11, the cruel jibes had turned into violent beatings. One of the most vicious attacks was at the hands of a girl gang outside the school gates. "I was punched and kicked and slammed into a lamppost. I was unconscious for a short amount of time and when I woke up people were burning cigarettes on me." They also ripped her coat off and stole her mobile phone to stop her calling for help. Other times groups of and girls and boys would lay in wait for her in an alleyway near her home. She revealed, "I couldn’t even go to the local shop. Mum would ask me to get her some milk and then I’d bump into them on the way there and they’d beat me up. I’d come back covered in bruises."

Fast forward to April 12, 2014. The nervous 24-year-old auditioned for "Britain's Got Talent", which you can see above (or here). The result: A well-deserved, 35-second standing ovation by the audience and judges, with Simon Cowell praising her performance of Puccini’s Vissi d’arte as "extraordinary". She finished second place in the final for her rendition of "Nessun Dorma". Within days, Lucy signed a multi-album deal with Sony Music. Her debut studio album Fantasia was released on September 24, 2014, debuting at #18 on the UK Albums Chart and #1 on the UK Classical Chart. Today, she is the Narrator in the 2016 UK touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat".

Lucy's story is a classic example of someone who pressed on, despite having numerous roadblocks placed before her. She descended and walked through hell. And today, she has ascended to unbelievable heights in her profession, and triumphed over her enemies. Lucy never gave up. She kept pressing forward, with the hope that things would get better. They did, and we are all beneficiaries.

Next up in this miniseries: Examining the kind of faith that moves mountains, shatters prison walls, subdues kingdoms, stops the mouths of lions, quenches the violence of fire, escapes the edge of the sword, raises the dead to life again, bids the sun and moon to stand still and, in fact, creates worlds.

Interested?

4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this. Especially the 2 video clips as well.

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  2. I ditto the thank you. I feel like the Lord is moving to increase the faith of those who are turning to Him. I am looking forward to this series, as I have all the others. This is powerful. I know the time and effort this must take and I thank you for that also!!

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  3. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. It is so helpful to keep this lesson in mind: Blessings follow faithfulness in trial. The Lord wants to prove and bless us.
    I needed to be reminded of this. It has given me courage to move on in the strength of the Lord. I appreciate this post from the bottom of my heart.

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  4. I love your thought on learning to hear the voice of the Lord on a new frequency. This is where I'm at. A few months ago I prayed for the death of vain, egotistical, and misguided desires. I prayed for the death of paradigms that keep me locked in patterns of disbelief and a few other things. And of course, it's been a painful process to shed these patterns, but the hardest part has been the silence on God's end. I wondered why I couldn't seem to hear Him anymore. You articulated it perfectly. Based on my experience, I wasn't able to tap into that new frequency until my third heart-gushing, gut-wrenching, soul-intense prayer was offered, at which point I felt the Savior beside me. So it seems to me that to reach the Lord on a new frequency requires a greater effort (and faith) on our part. We have to reach out of the purging purifying pain, higher than we ever have, in order to connect on this new level. But then that's what raises us higher. This is a different way to look at trials than I have considered. Thank you. If you have any other thoughts on this specific vein I'd love to hear them. Perhaps another blog post? :)

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