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perspective

19

shaking fist

Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Not everyone has, but in recent days, I have had the opportunity to visit with some people close to me who have, or do. I found the conversations both sad and hopeful at the same time. One reason I am happy to talk about the subject is because – brace yourselves – I have felt abandoned by God. Even beyond feeling abandoned, I have been angry at Him as well. I don’t recommend it, but it can happen.

The most personal and specific example in my life was a stretch of time earlier in our marriage when my EC and I had four young kids in the home, ranging from two to eleven years old. During an eighteen month period we had a non-stop run of heartbreak and challenge. I say this knowing full well that to some of you, our challenges will look difficult, yet to others, they will look like a walk in the park. Everyone faces their own challenges, and they can be wildly different. Our challenges were kicking my butt.

To start off the stretch, we lost a baby to miscarriage. A few months later, my father-in-law passed away from a painful illness. Three months later, my mother died unexpectedly. Shortly afterwards, my father suffered a massive stroke that rendered him invalid. Finally, a few month later, my EC suffered a life-changing leg injury that left her confined to a hospital bed for three months, unable to walk for six.

It was during this last event that I remember how I felt. My wife was stuck sleeping on her back in an extra room in  a rented hospital bed, fuzzy from pain medications. The kids were upstairs asleep when I decided to go outside for a walk. I was so tired. Tired from playing nurse, tired of trying to keep a business afloat, and tired of taking care of a houseful of kids. I was still mourning my mom and dad, and just trying to keep my own head above water.

I vividly remember standing in our driveway that night and bursting into tears. Not tears of sadness, or exhaustion, but tears of anger. I was angry at God for abandoning us. I was angry that he allowed all of these life-crisis to pile up on us without even time to mourn or breath before the next gut-punch came. I felt cheated that our reward for doing our best to live righteously was to be repeatedly pummeled by tragedy. I felt alone and cheated.

It was an unfamiliar feeling to me.

As I tell this, I’m sure that many of you are nodding your heads and saying, “Been there, done that.” I also know that many of you are taken aback because you have never grappled with those kind of feelings. I do guarantee that someone you know and love has walked this path.

One of them is the prophet Joseph Smith. When he was suffering in Liberty Jail, his frustration and feelings of abandonment bubbled up, as recorded in scripture. He pled:

O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries? (D&C 121:1-2)

He went on to offer God a list of suggestions of how He could better do His job, but mostly his plea was full of questions. Where are you? Why aren’t you helping? Way aren’t you listening?

The greatest example of feeling abandoned in the scriptures is from the Savior’s own lips. As he hung on the cross, suffering more than any man ever would, or could, he called out to God.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matt 27:46)

Apparently it happens to the best of us.

The danger in harboring feelings of abandonment or anger towards God is not in that moment, but what it can lead to if unchecked. Something has to stop the slide before we find ourselves hurtling into the abyss of atheism or agnosticism. (Think of Tom Cruise sliding off that skyscraper in Shanghai.)

It would be both trite and naive to suggest that we just “snap out of it.” These challenges are real and can run deep. What I can suggest are some ways that we can stop the slide and climb back into a healthier relationship with God.

– Find something to grab onto to stop the slide.

Might I suggest this thought: Anger towards God is a personal testimony that you believe He is real and that He lives. You wouldn’t be angry if you didn’t believe in Him, right? Grab onto that basic, pure testimony that He does live, and begin to work your way back. As frightening as it is to think God has abandoned us, it is more frightening to think that He doesn’t exist. He does.

– Find a sense of proportion.

Nobody, and I mean nobody wants to be told that things could be worse, and I would suggest that you never, ever do that to someone who is suffering. Yet that is exactly how God responded to Joseph Smith when he called out to Him from Liberty Jail.

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.

Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job”. (D&C 121:7-10)

It was a gently rebuke, looking at the bright side – but then the Lord came back again, gave him a dose of proportion and dressed him down:

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7)

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8)

– Find a sense of eternal perspective.

The Plan of Happiness does not always mean “Instant Happiness.” it is a plan for playing the long-game. Studying that plan, and what God desires for us, helps us weather the inevitable storms life brings. The immediacy of our current struggles sometimes overwhelms the reality that this life is indeed a “blip” on the eternities. While that perspective does not reduce the pain, it can make it a little more tolerable. It helps to know that God is aware, and that he loves us – even when we can’t tell.

President Boyd K. Packer taught, “Do not suppose that God willfully causes that which, for His own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and the purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven” (link)

– Find some blessings.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged; God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Sure, it’s a little cheesy, but the concept is sound. When we focus on gratitude, we become humble. Humility helps us in the next step:

– Find some grace.

President James E Faust: In the many trials of life, when we feel abandoned and when sorrow, sin, disappointment, failure, and weakness make us less than we should ever be, there can come the healing salve of the unreserved love in the grace of God. It is a love that forgives and forgets, a love that lifts and blesses. (link)

As the Lord pointed out to Joseph Smith, “the Son of Man hath descended below them all,” placing the Savior in the remarkable position of having total empathy, understanding and compassion. Turn to Him. By seeking healing through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can mend our strained relationship with God.

I testify that the Savior invites all of us to come and partake of His Atonement. As we exercise our faith in Him, He will lift us up and carry us through all of our trials and, ultimately, save us in the celestial kingdom. (Elder Evan A. Scmutz)

– Find common ground through prayer.

Standing in the driveway that night, I had a one-sided conversation with God, and it wasn’t pretty. But at least I was having a one-sided conversation with God. Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite plays/films. The lead character Tevye, walks through his life in a constant running dialogue with God. It is not only funny, but exemplary. I’ll admit standing in a driveway – full of tears and rage – is not the best way to converse with God, it is at least an honest attempt, and the best I could muster at the time. The next step would be to dial it back, and search for a two-way communication that involves much less complaining, and much more listening and searching for understanding.

Elder Bednar added this counsel: “Discerning and accepting the will of God in our lives are fundamental elements of asking in faith in meaningful prayer. However, simply saying the words “Thy will be done” is not enough. Each of us needs God’s help in surrendering our will to Him.

“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” Humble, earnest, and persistent prayer enables us to recognize and align ourselves with the will of our Heavenly Father. And in this the Savior provided the perfect example as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. … And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:42, 44).

Ultimately, when we are angry at God, or feel abandoned by Him, we are focusing on the idea that we know better – that things should run according to our plan. Until we let go of this false sense of control and actually submit our will to His, we will be at odds with God. It is a lifetime challenge, and tougher to embrace when we are mired in struggle.

To those who are suffering, I feel for you and hope you can stop the slide and climb out. To those of you who have never experienced the feelings of abandonment and frustration with God, I am happy for you, and hope you never do.

God does live, and He does love us – even though sometimes we can’t see it.

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22

Penguins

Sometimes I’m quietly observant, other times I’m loudly observant. Recently, I have been seeing some things in the media and reading some opinions that have me wanting to make a little bit of noise about a very real conflict – a dichotomy – that we share as people and as members of the Church. But to do that, please allow me to take you to Africa…

A few years ago, I was helping run a terrific humanitarian group that operates in Africa. We were having a few growing pains, mostly regarding issues with our staff of about fifty local workers. Nothing major, just the normal things most any small enterprise deals with on a regular basis – absenteeism, demands for higher wages, competence, grumbling, waste, etc.

On one of my trips there, we had a staff meeting where I had the opportunity to address some of those concerns. Rather than tackle them individually, I felt that a dose of perspective was needed. Here is a brief summary of the two main points:

• Each one of you is IMPORTANT. Including me. Every one of us has special skills and talents that make things work – and that is why you have ben hired. If one of you doesn’t show up for work, something doesn’t get done. Each one of you makes a difference, and when we are all pulling together, we make wonderful progress. But it takes each one of you, with your individual skills and individual talents, and individual efforts to make that happen.  Each one of you is vital to the organization. Each one of you is important.. (Everyone was happy to hear this.)

That said…

• Each one of you is NOT IMPORTANT. Including me. If anyone here today were to leave, there would be a hundred people lined up to take your spot by tomorrow morning – many of them more qualified than you are. If you don’t want to show up for work, someone else will. If you don’t like your paycheck, someone else would be thrilled to earn and spend it. Basically, the program will move along just fine without you. You are not vital to the long term success of what we are doing. The question is if you want to be a part of it – or not. (Not as many smiles at this point.)

Yeah, it was a little harsh, but when the reality of the dichotomy sunk in, and that perspective was front and center, we were able to make quick work of the issues at hand.

Oh, and this wasn’t originally my idea – I kind of stole it – from God.

In the Book of Moses, Chapter 1, God gives Moses a tour of his creations, while extending a calling to him.

“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.” (vs 3-4)

After establishing that Moses was a son of the Almighty God, (Which is pretty cool, and pretty flattering) God then presented Moses with the dichotomy:

“And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.

And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.

And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (vs 8-10)

Moses went from feeling like a “son of God,” to feeling like “nothing,” in the space of one vision. He witnessed many of the wonderful creations that God had made, then was literally brought to his knees, without the energy to even stand.

Why the extremes? I like to call it “Instant Perspective.”

When we understand the larger perspective, and not just fixate on one side or the other, we operate from a place of more wisdom.

• There is a temptation in the Church and the world to see ourselves as insignificant, that we don’t really matter very much in the grand scheme of things. That is OK- to a point -because it is true. Being aware of this leads to humility, which can lead to wonderful things. I find it interesting that God wanted Moses to understand his “nothingness,” before he was privy to the grand visions that followed. Humble people are teachable people.

King Benjamin tried to instill a similar perspective when he said, “I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” (Mosiah 2:21)

KIng Banjamin

• There is also the important knowledge that the things we do here on Earth matter – that we can impact the lives of others – that we really CAN make a difference. We are called to serve, share and try and make an impact on society. Being aware of this can lead to good works.

“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15-16)

It is our duty to help “bear off the Kingdom triumphantly.” (President Ezra Taft Benson)

• There is also a temptation to believe that somehow we are more crucial to the work moving forward than we really are – that out efforts, and our opinions somehow carry such weight that the Church would somehow suffer without our unique contributions. The news is full of members and ex-members who feel this way, but soon realize that the metaphor of removing a hand from a bucket of water is very real.

The dichotomy is readily taught throughout gospel teachings:

Each one of us IS important.

“Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10)

“May we reach out and rescue those who have fallen by the wayside, that not one precious soul will be lost.” (President Thomas Monson)

“You may feel that there are others who are more capable or more experienced who could fulfill your callings and assignments better than you can, but the Lord gave you your responsibilities for a reason. There may be people and hearts only you can reach and touch. Perhaps no one else could do it in quite the same way.” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf)

Each one of us is NOT important.

“The church is like a great caravan – organized, prepared, following an appointed course… What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? Or that predators claim those who fall by the way? The caravan moves on.” (Bruce R. McConkie)

“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” (Joseph Smith)

The DANGER in wallowing in the idea of our own un-importance, or using it as an excuse to shirk our duties, is that even though the “caravan moves on,” without us, it could very well move on without our children, and our children’s children. Not to mention those countless people we might be able to help along the journey. No one lives in a vacuum. While the Church will get there either way, we could really make a mess out of things by claiming this as a reason to not “stay in the boat.”

Simply put, the “Instant Perspective” is this:

The Church will move on until Christ comes to take charge. It will move on with or without me. If I choose to be important and involved in the work, it is up to ME to get on board, get busy and stay on the boat. I have the potential to be an important contributor, and to be of infinite and eternal worth to the souls of those I touch.

I can choose to be un-important, and just one of the billions who move through this world without making much of a positive impact.

I am merely a speck of dust, yet I am a son of God.    I am both, and that dichotomy – that perspective – propels me forward with a sense of purpose, and a dose of humility.
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16

Plan of salvation

You know that movie where something happens to the guy and he gets amnesia? Yeah, that guy. Then he spends the rest of the show trying to solve a crime or something.

We are that guy.

Everyone single one of us on this earth is an amnesiac of sorts. We don’t remember what happened to us before we got here. In religious terms, we call it “passing through the veil of forgetfulness.”  Same idea.

Now, going the other direction, there are a lot of people who have no idea as to what happens after this life either. Some have just decided that the answer is an absolute nothing. When we die, it is over. Done. Fini!

Now, let that settle in for a minute and think about how thinking that way might impact your life. If there was nothing before, and nothing after, then all there is is now. Today. This moment.

What would that look like? A free-for-all.

Turn on the news. That’s what it looks like. People have been tossing aside aside ideals of morality and community in order to pursue their own interests since the beginning. And why not?  Korihor (the Anti-Christ) explained it this way:

“…every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.

And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms—telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.” (Alma 30: 17-18)

Makes sense, right? If it all ends when we are dead, we may as well say, “…eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die…” (2 Nephi 28:7)

The problem there is that that path does not lead to happiness, rather to chaos and entropy. Again – turn on the news.

As we make the run up to Thanksgiving this week, I know that there are people out there who don’t care, or even worse, they hate this particular holiday. Some blow right past it to get to Christmas. Sadder still, some do not feel a sense of “gratitude” for anything – because frankly – their life sucks. It is tragic.

Broken hearts and homes, serious illness, financial disasters, family problems, shattered hopes and dreams, fear, etc. All of these things, and more can strip the hope right out of our lives – and as hope diminishes, so does a sense of gratitude. Most people aren’t apt to sing praises to God in their Job-like moments – they would more likely follow the advice of Job’s friends to “curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9)

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a distinct advantage when it comes to finding ways to be thankful:

Perspective.

Through ancient and modern prophets, we have a perspective that is wildly different than most people. It is also much broader than most. We can read in several places where the Lord took a newly-called prophet on a journey through time to see the beginning to the end – kind of a “prophet-prep” course on perspective. And they shared these visions with us. Why?

Because when we can see how it started, all the way through to how things end up, it makes what we are doing now – right this very moment – a part of a much larger picture. A picture that make sense.

Suddenly, all the heartache, misery, suffering, trials and challenges are also part of that bigger picture. A picture that can have a very, very happy ending. And therein exists hope.

If we find ourselves in a dark place where we can’t find anything to be thankful for (and it doe happen), then we have lost perspective. We are caught up in the misery of the moment, and turning a blind eye to the timeline of our existence that stretches out – infinitely – in both directions.

When Joseph Smith was struggling with his perspective in Liberty Jail, the Lord gave him what for:

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pitor into thehands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deepif the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experienceand shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7)

joseph-at-liberty-jail

We should be, as a people, and individually, the most thankful people on the planet. When it comes to making lists of things to be thankful for, our problem should be writer’s cramp. We have a perspective and insight into what really matters. We know how things will end up – we already know which team wins. We understand why life sucks sometimes. We know the purpose of suffering and trials.

We know God. We know he has a plan for us. We know we can emerge victorious.

We understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and through the ordinances of the gospel, we have access to it. Relatively few people on the Earth can make that statement.

I am thankful for the knowledge God has shared with us, and the increased perspective it gives us. There is more than this. There is more than now.

So much more.

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Here are a few links to General Conference talks that deal with hope and perspective:

“The Reason for Our Hope.”  President Boyd K. Packer

“Hope.” Elder Steven E. Snow

“The Infinite Power of Hope.” President Deiter F. Uchdorf