God is There. Somewhere.
Life doesn’t go according to some plan we make in our high school journals. Curve balls are always around the corner. But you know what? For me? I always assumed that the curve balls were manifested in other ways – infertility, lack of marriage, natural disasters, chronic illness – not to have MORE kids.
I am experiencing a lot of the same thing. No, not the “have more kids” part. I am experiencing curve balls I never thought would be thrown at me, trials I never ever thought I would have to endure. There are certain things in life that I thought would never happen to me because I knew I would make good choices.
Turns out there are two problems with that thinking. The first is that no amount of good choices I could ever make can prevent others from making bad choices. They have their agency, and ultimately they can make good choices, or they can make poor choices, regardless of anyone’s influence around them, regardless of how many good choices or bad choices they made in their past.
The second problem is something a reader pointed out on a blog post I wrote a few days ago. She said, “As for trials, if we think of them as something we earned through wrong choices only, we’ll never progress.” As I quipped in that post and in the comments, I may have learned that once upon a time. I may have even really understood that principle. But remembering gospel principles in the thick of trials is not something I’ve ever been very good at.
She went on to say, “I was reading today in Alma where the Lord says, ‘This is a promised land and I will protect you. And if your enemies attack, I will tell you to flee or fight.’ (paraphrasing here, people). It didn’t say—‘if you’re good the Lamanites will never attack, that you’ll never have go to war, that your sons won’t die.’ It says that he will help them get through it and survive it as a people.”
In a real-life conversation with Cheryl, when I discussed in depth with her some of the issues I have been having, she suggested that I focus my gospel study on patience. For ten years. And then after ten years I can move on to another gospel principle. I am sure she was trying to be at least a little bit funny (if you don’t know Cheryl, humor is definitely one of her gifts) but her suggestion stuck, and I realized that patience was probably the biggest thing I was missing in my life. Patience to faithfully endure trials. Patience to accept the trials that the Lord wants me to have rather than asking Him for trials that I want me to have. Last year when I was going through a similarly hard time, I read these words in an Ensign article:
The act of enduring difficult circumstances without feeling like a martyr, or without seeking reward or sympathy, can be a soul-expanding experience. It can bring new levels of character development attainable only when patience, tolerance, and a nonjudgmental attitude are practiced consistently over time.
Aside from lacking patience, another of my major weaknesses would be forgetting gospel principles in the thick of my trials – which might be a contributing factor to my lack of ability to have patience in trials. Today was a particularly trying day for me, emotionally and spiritually. I fell to my knees, as I usually do in these moments, begging Heavenly Father to help me. For the first time in a long time, I felt peace. Real peace. It enveloped my soul and I was able to move forward. No answers. Just peace.
When the peace does come I have to remind myself that there may be some days it does not. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s part of my trial – to feel alone and abandoned, so that I can learn to have faith that God is there even when things are very dark and painful. Paul commented on my last post that even Mother Teresa felt abandoned by God during much of her ministry. At one point, Mother Teresa wrote:
Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul … How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, … What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.
Mother Teresa felt this way for years and years. And yet, she pressed on, doing good, and testifying of God and Christ – even though she did not feel close to them. She wasn’t the only one. Joseph Smith, in Liberty Jail, cried out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” Even Jesus Christ himself cried to the Father, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Or, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
In his General Conference address, President Henry B. Eyring said, “In moments of pain, loneliness, or confusion, we do not need to see Jesus Christ to know that He is aware of our circumstances and that His mission is to bless us.” I would add that we do not even need to feel His presence to know that He is aware of our circumstances. I have always assumed that when I am in pain, if I pray to Him, God will help the pain go away.
When I gave birth to my second child I was induced. I was put on an IV of oxytocin to stimulate contractions. At first, they were nothing. Just a little pressure now and then. After several hours they were so painful I couldn’t think straight. The nurses gave me some painkillers in my IV, but they didn’t make the pain go away; I was just a little more oblivious to the pain – you could say the painkillers distracted me from the pain. My husband knows a very soothing Hebrew song and I made him sing it to me over and over again as I breathed through the contractions. His voice and the haunting melody didn’t make the pain disappear. It didn’t even deaden the pain, but it helped me endure the pain. God does not always make our pain go away. In a well known letter to the Corintians, Paul says (emphasis added),
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Patience is about bearing the pain, not waiting for God to take it away. All this time I have been asking for the wrong thing. I have been asking God to make things hurt less. I think in this trial, it’s not about the pain going away. It’s not about feeling close to God. Perhaps it’s about having faith that even though the pain is excruciating and my heart feels like it is going to be crushed by the weight of it all, God is there. Somewhere.
- How do you endure pain, knowing that it may not ever get better or go away?
- What kind of help do you ask God for?
- Is it easy for you to have faith that God is still somewhere, even if you don’t feel Him close to you?