A few years ago, I decided to try something different as I worked to find answers to my life. I decided to set an appointment with God.
Perhaps I was presumptuous or misguided in my thinking, perhaps I was tired of the hollowness I felt inside, or perhaps I simply needed a way to make it another day. I’m not sure, honestly, but I learned some valuable lessons, regardless of the accuracy of my thoughts or emotions at that time.
Leading up to this time, I read in D&C 88:62-63 when God commanded to “call upon me while I am near—Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” As I thought about the times I felt I had tried in the past to come to God, I also thought about two words, “call” and “knock”.
Previous to this time, I had always viewed the word “call” similar to ‘calling’ on a phone. In other words, I thought it meant to pray. However, I never understood what it meant to ‘knock’. I had some basic concepts about seeking, asking, and drawing near, but ‘knocking’ simply did not make much sense.
As I sat thinking, I realized that when the scriptures were written, there were no phones to ‘call’ anyone, and images from movies depicting the 18th and 19th centuries came into my mind where a young man would ask a woman if he could ‘call’ on her. When I saw these images, I looked at the scripture differently, thinking that maybe God was inviting me to come and be with Him. If that was the case, and I was ‘calling’ on God by going to where He was at the time, then ‘knocking’ made a little more sense to me as well, since I would knock on the door of a person if I arrived at their home to ‘call’ on them. It was all part of the greeting process.
At that time, I was quite busy with plenty of deadlines, church responsibilities, and family responsibilities. My life was booked from sunup to sundown, and I still didn’t get everything done that I needed to. I tried to find a time to fit in a trip to the Temple to ‘call’ upon God, but my mornings would begin before Temple sessions would end, and my nights wouldn’t end until Temple sessions were done.
So, at that time, I decided that maybe, just maybe, if I set aside some time just for God, Him and I could visit during that time.
With that in mind, I told God in prayer one night that I was making an appointment to meet Him in one of my basement rooms at a certain time in the early morning. I hoped He would understand due to how busy my life was and all of the responsibilities I had, and I asked Him to be with me during the appointed time.
I woke up the next morning, somewhat hopeful that I would be able to connect with God in some meaningful way. I had felt a distance for some time, and wanted to be able to feel something, even if it were just the Spirit again.
I proceeded to my basement at the appointed time. I prayed, told God I was there and that I ‘knocked’ in a figurative sense. Then, I waited. And waited. And waited.
Soon, the little time I had for my appointment with God was over. Life was calling me again, deadlines were pressing on me, and I hadn’t felt or sensed God during the appointment. Somewhat disappointed, I decided that maybe I needed to try again and set another appointment, just maybe a little further out.
So, I set another appointment as I prayed, telling God the next time I would be available. This process continued for a few weeks, mainly because when appointment times came, sleep often overpowered me, and I did not wake up for them. I don’t remember exactly why I was so tired, but I’m sure there were plenty of good justifications to be so tired between my children, church callings, and work.
I felt a little guilty missing various appointments I had set with God, but reasoned that God knew that I had tried. So, I set other appointments. I tried to make them, but I missed most of them, honestly, due to sleeping straight through the appointed time. Yet, I was never once late to work, no matter how little sleep I had the night before.
After a few weeks of setting appointments, missing most of them, and not feeling any different for the ones I kept, I gave up the experiment, disappointed that God had not reached out to me while I had tried.
It took some time for me to start to understand where I had gone wrong, and I am still realizing things about myself from my attempts to set an appointment with God. Some of the things I realized include:
First, I learned how little self-control I had when it came to spiritual things. I had enough self-control to wake up for work—regardless of how many times kids threw up the night before—but I would sleep straight through designated times for me to be involved in reading, studying, and pondering spiritual things.
When I finally realized that I was never late for work, but often missed my time set aside for spiritual things, I realized that my priorities were quite askew. I could arrive on time for work each day (no matter how tired I was) because I placed that as a high priority in my life. In other words, my internal priorities gave me power to override fatigue, exhaustion, and the like, and I still worked. Yet, spiritual things were not enough of a priority for me to sacrifice sleep for.
Second, I learned how pridefully and ignorantly I viewed my life. When I set my appointment with God, asking Him to meet me in my basement, I was, in effect, saying that my pursuit of money and my desire for sleep were more important than me figuring out a time to go to God’s house. I was busy, yes, and I justified it saying I was doing what God asked me to—providing for my family, working hard, caring for children, and fulfilling a church calling.
Yet, my view of life was centered around me. I was willing to give up sleep for a chance to get ahead at work, but not for a chance to connect with God. As an attorney, I could somehow change my entire schedule to be fully prepared for a court date (the time would somehow exist for me to review and memorize all necessary documents and arguments), and I would be up, dressed in a suit and tie, and leaving early enough to court to still arrive on time regardless of the weather outside. I had to be that way, I thought to myself, because I am representing other people in court.
As I started reflecting on why I could appear in court at any time set by a judge but could not make it to God’s house, I realized I had the power sufficient to still arrange my time, despite my busy schedule. For some reason though, I would only exercise that power of mine if something physical and tangible demanded it. A child crying in the night, for example, would force me to get up, or a judge issuing a court date would require me to prepare for the legal arguments at the hearing.
But when it came to spiritual things, nothing compelled me to prepare. Nothing compelled me to get up, and I missed out, day after day, week after week, and year after year, because my priorities were off, my pride was high, and my ignorance ran deep.
Third, I was telling God how He should work in my life. That, I have come to realize, happens far more often than I am okay admitting. I consistently find myself believing that things should be a certain way, rather than believing that God has already appointed the way. My role or obligation is not to blaze some new path, method, or way to God or Heaven, it is simply to walk the path that is already there.
I still often find myself falling into this trap. There are so many things I do not understand about God and His ways that it is easy to criticize His plan and His ways. I usually don’t publicly criticize, but find that spirit of criticism running through my heart, and find dissatisfaction with people, church, and my perception of God’s treatment of me.
Why can’t I just love people? I thought to myself one day. “You can” came a thought in response, “but you have to let go and do things God’s way.”
God has a path. He walked it, He blazed the way, and my job is to follow rather than tell God that there is a better path for me at any particular time in my life.
Fourth, I learned how much I lacked in faith. When things were physical, I could respond and adjust my life to meet those demands. I did not need faith to know my baby was crying, I could simply hear that and know I needed to respond. I did need faith though, a lot of faith, to believe that setting aside time to study the scriptures was worthwhile during periods where I already missed so much sleep, or that I could take a morning off from work and go to the Temple to truly call upon God.
Fifth, I learned that appointments with God can be an amazing thing, when they are done in His way. Dedicating time each day to awake and read the scriptures (rather than quickly reading a few verses before falling completely asleep at night), or time each month to attend the Temple (rather than missing another month and another month), has brought me more in line with God, has helped change my priorities, and has helped light return.
I still don’t have any amazing visions to share, I still haven’t seen angels descending from Heaven when I read scriptures or attend the Temple, and I am still working through plenty of internal issues that block my view of Heaven and my relationship with God.
However, as I work to gain enough self-control to make spiritual matters a priority, to set spiritual appointments for myself that I structure the rest of my life around so that I can study and seek God (rather than telling Him where and when to be to accommodate my pride), and as I work to do things in the way God established, light is returning to my heart.
It’s a line upon line, day by day process for me. I don’t change all at once, I still struggle with misplaced priorities, pride, and lack of self-control, and I still have periods where God feels far away. Yet, I have learned that it isn’t God that is not where He is supposed to be, it is me, but I can change and make the life journey necessary to truly ‘call’ upon God where He is in Heaven.
Journal writing has the potential to bless our own life, as well as the lives of those who come after us. I often find it very difficult to write a good journal entry though, especially because it seems that no one will care that I worked in the office again that day, picked up toys off the floor for the 1,972 time that month, or made it through another round of meetings for the day.
In other words, I often view journal writing as a detail of my daily routine. When I view it this way, I rarely write in my journal, and rarely get anything out of it. I then feel somewhat guilty though when I hear a church leader speak about the importance of journal writing.
To help myself better understand journaling, I have started looking through what actually makes a good journal entry. As I look at the lives of my ancestors, the things that really stand out to me are when something is recorded that gives me a glimpse of who the person was. As I have thought on this, I have realized that journaling is an amazing opportunity for us to learn about who we really are, as well as to leave a legacy for our posterity after us.
Somehow, when we take the time to write down and record thoughts and feelings, we learn. Writing forces us to give structure to our thoughts and feelings. As our thoughts and feelings become structured, an identity forms within us. We began to understand and see more of why we feel as we do, why we think as we do, and why we act as we do. As we gain this identity, we also gain the ability to change as we see ourselves more clearly, and understand what is taking place inside.
Additionally, as we begin to record our thoughts and feelings, we are beginning to record pieces of ourselves that can stay alive long after we go. These pieces of ourselves can bless our posterity. All of us are drawn to stories that truly reach and touch the emotions and feelings that take place inside of us. The more we are able to write about who we are inside, the more drawn to and connected others become to us.
There is a lot of power in sharing our fears, our sadness, our joy, and our current understanding of life, of politics, religion, or the like. No matter how simple we are, we matter to those around us. Further, when we record these things, we gain the ability to see our progress.
Without a journal, or external record of our internal feelings and thoughts, we can never see our progress or growth. If we want to understand if we have gained more spirituality, more patience, or similar intangible attributes, we have to actually record where we are at with those things. As we do, and as life continues on, we can look back on and actually see how far we have moved from where we were at earlier. The ability to see our progress or change is invaluable as we make course corrections in our lives, and as we recognize what is working and what is not for us.
Recently, there has been a renewed focus in the Church on “making the Sabbath a delight.” During the week I am often so busy that I rarely write in a journal. However, I have decided to try and make “the Sabbath a delight” by trying to actually write a journal entry that would be meaningful for me and my family. As I have sat and tried to write, I still struggled coming up with a topic for that week, as my mind usually goes blank when I sit down to write.
To remedy that problem, I made a list of topics I can use if nothing else comes to mind when I sit down to write. I share this list simply to help you come up with topics or to perhaps start a tradition of journal writing that will help shape you and your posterity. I know that we often fear describing many of these things, but these are the things that our kids and others find most interesting about us, the things that we usually don’t share with them.
There are many ways, of course, to keep a journal, and so just pick what works best for you. For me, typing works best. I type all day for work, so it is a form of writing that I can do quickly. Also, you can keep journals for children, family, or other situations, and I am trying to maintain a journal I record things in occasionally that affect the entire family as well as my own personal journal.
One day, I may actually get good enough at this to record things daily, but for now, my goal is just to make a meaningful entry once a week. Hopefully the following list is helpful to you as you consider ways to make the Sabbath a delight and as you take the time to record things that will be interesting and helpful to you in understanding who you are as well as to your posterity.
Capitalism has changed our world in so many ways, including, I have discovered, by extending its virtues into our personal lives where these virtues may not always belong. Capitalism lives and breaths through a constant effort to increase efficiency and lower costs, and unfortunately, we have begun to accept these principles as virtues in our personal relations with other people.
I see efficiency lauded as a virtue in many places in society. At work, those who produce the most in the shortest amount of time are celebrated. Managers have praise heaped upon them when they make things more efficient and reduce the number of necessary employees. Parents feel they are successful based on whether they were able to check a large number of items off of their to-do list that day. Friends feel they did their part to offer support to someone struggling because they sent a text message.
We constantly measure our success or worth by the mistaken virtue of efficiency. When a car breaks down, we are upset because we don’t accomplish things. When a child gets sick, we are frustrated that we couldn’t get more accomplished that day. When a co-worker needs to talk for a few minutes, we are upset that we were delayed in our work.
While we often don’t consciously put efficiency as a virtue in our minds, we often place it as a virtue that we strive to live by in our hearts, and our self-worth and measure of success is often tied to adding up how much we can or can’t accomplish.
While efficiency has a place, time, and purpose, it has no place as a governing virtue in our lives. Here’s why.
Good is not efficient. Love is not efficient. Kindness is not efficient. We all need kindness, love, and good in our lives. As individuals, we live each day striving to provide for ourselves and our family, and we live in search of peace, joy, and happiness. All of these things though will never be found by acting efficiently. We log on to Facebook because it is fast and easy to do in search of a meaningful interaction or exchange with another human or sometimes just something to dull and entertain the senses. We send a text hoping to get one back. We pray for friends, for someone who really understands, or who can help with something we need.
Despite this, we rush through each day, focusing so much on producing results, finishing things, cleaning up floors, and meeting deadlines. On these days we have no time for kindness, we have no time to show love, and we have no time to enjoy everything amazing around us.
Efficiency trims most of the meaningful and good away from life. Efficiency causes us to believe there is one thing important in life (making money, accomplishing a list, etc.), and it cuts everything else out, even though those other things are often what we are really looking for. As a father focused on efficiency, I might feel proud when I’m able to discipline children that are fighting and talk to them sternly in under two minutes so that I’m not late to my next meeting. If I do though, I miss out on opportunities to sit and talk, to understand why they are having problems, and to show them love to help them have a reason to change.
While driving to appointments or to home I can’t count the number of times I have passed a car stranded on the road. I didn’t stop because it would take too much time, time I didn’t think I had. When I would let members at church know about an activity, I would type one text and send it to everyone, glad that I could spend so little time letting so many people know about the activity. However, it was extremely rare that anyone I texted would actually come to the activity.
Texting can be a very efficient way to communicate. Mass emails can be too. Same with social media. However, the more efficient the communication becomes, the less meaningful it becomes. This is true about all things efficient. The more efficient something becomes, the less meaningful it becomes. Getting a text about an activity at church is nice, but it usually means little to the people receiving it. Getting a phone call with a personal invitation means more, while having someone show up and say "hi" will mean the most. In other words, the most meaningful things in life are often the least efficient things.
As a Dad, I can come home from work, read a quick story to the kids, say ‘I love you’, and then run out the door again. While this isn’t bad, it doesn’t do anything to really connect with the kids. Love is found in putting aside things that matter to show my kids that they are the most important thing to me. Love is found in spending lots of time sitting on the bed talking and listening. Love is found through having no deadline attached to everything I do.
Life is most meaningful and happy when we have good, meaningful interactions with other people. Money doesn’t bring happiness. To-do lists don’t bring happiness. Getting the daily chores done in one hour doesn’t bring happiness. Inefficiency brings happiness though. Sitting down and laughing with a child while ignoring the chores forges a meaningful connection. Stopping by to see a friend to just talk on the doorstep rather than sending a quick text creates another meaningful connection. Giving an employee the chance to explain how they really feel about things helps create meaning at work.
The reason we struggle so much with stopping to take time for what matters most is because we have to exercise faith to do so. The truly good and meaningful things in life aren’t quantifiable. We can’t assign a number or value to the level of kindness we showed on a given day. We can’t assign a number or value to how well we connected with our children that day, and we have to be able to look at our dirty house confident that we used our time to forge something eternal that day.
The more we demand efficiency, the less faith we have in our ability to do truly great things, as efficiency always follows the need to count and add up our value, and great things aren't built on the quantifiable. Truly great things, or masterpieces, are great because they capture and touch upon far more than can ever be quantified. Masterpieces, the type that lasts through the ages, aren’t efficient. They take hours of effort, tries, and retries, they take connecting to and understanding people at a level never reached through efficiency, and they take patience and devotion.
We try to build businesses with efficiency as the top priority. Those businesses come and go quickly, employees aren’t happy, and the competition is always lurking. It’s a race to the bottom for the efficient business, and the only ones that survive are those who are able to cut the good and meaningful from the work and somehow convince people to keep working there despite that.
Great businesses though don’t place efficiency as the governing principle. They spend resources and time on people, on connecting and understanding, and on creating something that truly has value to it. A business that can create a masterpiece doesn’t have to charge the lowest cost for it. Apple tends to follow this approach and focuses on creating an experience for people, and Apple can charge almost whatever it wants for its products. If it demanded efficiency from all of its employees, it would be cutting out its ability to connect with the unquantifiable factors that transcend its product itself. Apple does well because it has faith in its ability to connect and deliver something that can’t be quantified.
Families aren’t efficient. Raising children isn’t efficient. They need time, they need our attention, and we help even when we don’t have time to do so. If we focus too much on getting dinner done in 30 minutes, the chores done in 45 minutes, and everyone in bed by nine o’clock we’ll miss the moments that will really matter in the lives of our family members. The same with friends, and the more we miss these moments, the less happy we become.
Efficiency drives us to feeling frustrated, angry, on edge, and unhappy as we aren’t able to stop and take a minute to smell the flowers, to really talk with someone, to stop and help a person stranded on the road, or to have meaningful time just shooting the breeze with our friends or kids. If we want to be successful, be happy, or create a masterpiece, we have to learn to exercise faith in how essential it is to invest in the inefficient, the unquantifiable, and the unseeable. We gain so much through embracing kindness, goodness, love, and decency, and these things change our very outlook on and experience with life itself.
If you want happiness, if you want to get past the void inside, if you want meaning or purpose in your life, do something inefficient. Truly connect with someone. Don’t text them, don’t call them, just go and say hi. Have no deadline that you have to meet after. Ask the person how they are doing, and just listen. Stop measuring your success or self-worth through how much you accomplish, and instead focus on placing faith in the importance of the unquantifiable. Be more kind, lend a hand to someone who needs it, plan on getting to your next appointment 15 minutes early so you can stop and help someone you see in need. Yes, it is inefficient, but it will build far more in your personal life than efficiency ever would.
It’s time to recognize efficiency for what it is – a mistaken virtue that robs us of the most meaningful things life has to offer. Efficiency has a place in business and in our work, but it should not govern nor be the most prized in how we interact with others or in how we view ourselves. Life has so much more to it than efficiency will ever let you see or experience, but you can access the beauty and meaning life has to offer through faith and a devotion to always taking time to do the right and good thing.
The Ordain Women group took the time to write a response to my original post on Women and the Priesthood. I was impressed by the civility and questions asked, and am providing a response to the questions they raised, especially since I highly value a civil and appropriate exchange of competing ideas. If you haven’t read the original or the response, I recommend doing so before reading this. The questions raised by Ordain Women are listed first, followed by a response.
Q: Do you believe that women, as a group, lack some capacity or ability to hold the Priesthood?
A: In the way of physical capacity, no, I do not. To be honest though, I don’t know what may or may not prevent someone from holding the Priesthood, although I sense it is not related to our physical body. The Gentiles were unable to hold the Priesthood for many centuries, but it probably wasn’t due to their physical body.
The original article never stated that women were physically unable to do so. The example of the boy not being able to play football was simply a physical example of a principle many people often miss – we are all different, and we don’t get everything we want. As a society, we like to pretend that we can all be anything we want to be, but it simply isn’t true. I was not given the talents to be a football player, basketball player, great artist, or charismatic guy.
We often miss that God gives us our talents. Sure, we are expected to work and improve them, develop them, and increase them, but the foundation for what we have (and the opportunities for what we have) come from God. No matter how hard I try, I will never be a professional athlete, and that is the same for the majority of America. I can improve my physical abilities, yes, but I do not have what the professionals do. Most in America will simply never be President either, no matter how good, talented or deserving they are.
Spiritually and Priesthood speaking, the majority of Priesthood holders will never be a Bishop, they will never be a Seventy, and only a small handful will ever be the Prophet. Many Priesthood holders will lack many spiritual gifts, may not teach as well as another in the quorum, and may struggle because they don’t get the same spiritual experiences or opportunities as another in the quorum. My question to you is – Is God unfair and unequal for denying me every opportunity in the Priesthood that other men get?
Many men struggle feeling accepted and okay when they are passed over for callings. No one in this church gets to choose what their own calling or opportunity is. So, if women had the Priesthood, would that be sufficient, or would we start feeling slighted when passed over for a particular calling time and time again?
So, the little boy highlighted a principle – we are all given different opportunities, be it physical or spiritual. Our opportunities give us a chance to do something and accomplish something. If I don’t have the opportunity to serve as a Patriarch, I do have the opportunity to use my time and abilities for something else. Similarly, for those who don’t have the Priesthood (be it men in China, women in the church, or children), they now have the opportunity to show others the most powerful type of love, God’s love, and to act entirely of their own choosing and to be “anxiously engaged” in a good cause of their own “free will”.
Q: Are we better off with more than half of our people not fully participating? And as a follow-up, I would also ask: Are members better off in branches because there aren’t enough Priesthood holding men in a ward area? Are men better off carrying the burden and responsibilities of Priesthood to bring about the kingdom of God without the equal yoking of women to help them?
A: I would ask a similar question, just on a larger scale. Is the world better off with more than 99% of its people not fully participating? Is God so unjust as to deny full and equal access to the Gospel to most of His children on this earth?
As mentioned in the original article, our view of things is skewed. From within the church we often fail to see how the same principles are affecting our brothers and sisters – God’s children – the world over. This world is a fallen world, one where things aren’t perfect, one where we are born missing very important pieces of things we need for eternity. In this world, we will all miss out on significant opportunities that could have helped us, including the Gospel itself for so many of God’s children that traversed this earth. While it is important for us to work to correct our fallen nature to the extent possible, it is more important for us to take the opportunities given, even in light of everything we don’t have, as we will never be given every opportunity in this life that would make us all ‘better off’. (This is discussing far more than the Priesthood here, and is not saying that our fallen condition prevents women from holding the Priesthood.)
We aren’t here on this earth to have every opportunity possible. The stark reality of that stares us in the face as we look at our own lives and the lives of countless people before us. We aren’t here to enjoy optimal conditions. We’re here to be ‘tested’, to be tried by imperfections, things that don’t work well, things that break, opportunities that simply never exist to us.
So, is God’s church and kingdom benefited by women? Absolutely. Are members better off today with more members and more Priesthood? Yes. Is that God’s will for every member of the church to live in a large ward with plentiful Priesthood? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe some of us need the growth that comes from a small branch, from struggles, and from the exercise of faith. Maybe some of us don’t. Maybe some of us need the Gospel spelled out to us to find God, maybe some of us don’t. Maybe what benefits us today will rob us of what we need tomorrow, or in eternity.
We are all different, we all have different opportunities. I fully believe that while we don’t have everything we want or see as beneficial to us, God gives us everything we need to fully contribute to His kingdom. Rather than being upset with what we don’t have though, we can only fully contribute by embracing what we do have.
So, I don’t agree with your assertion that over half of the church is not “fully participating”. Countless people are actively participating to the fullest extent given them, whether or not they have the Priesthood. Just as I don’t have to be a Bishop to fully contribute, so too women can still fully contribute in the church, as they are given opportunities and talents that men simply don’t have. God intends for us to work together, and has never intended for one person to perform all of the roles assigned to His children on this earth.
Q: Wouldn’t expansion of Priesthood authority for women be the next logical step?
This is a very logical step, yes. Nearly all men I know would welcome serious reinforcement to the Priesthood duties they carry. The lesser the chance of being called as a Bishop, for example, the better for many of them.
I have never known an instance where human logic dictated would God would or wouldn’t do though. Wouldn’t it be logical that an apostasy for over a thousand years didn’t happen? That all of the Tribes of Israel had the Priesthood? That God would simply prevent the mass shootings that occur? Yes, all of those things are logical too, but they simply aren’t the way things are. I’m certainly not saying that women will never have the Priesthood, but I’m also not saying they will. I just don’t know the future there.
I do know though that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and He is working to refine each one of us. He has a plan for each of us, and no opportunity that we truly need will be forever withheld from us. We may not get it in this life (like the billions of people who never learned of the Gospel in this life), but we will receive what we need at some point.
Logic alone doesn’t work here because it cannot properly figure and take into account things pre-mortally and post-mortally. We can only understand the “why’s” of this life by turning to God for the big picture, including seeking to understand that our calling here is to exercise the talents and opportunities we have been given, rather than continually seeking to be given something we simply do not need at this moment for what we’ve been asked to do that impacts eternity. Peace will only come as we understand and embrace our purpose on this earth, and will not come to us through logic produced by a mortal mind that can’t see the beginning from the end.
Q: Do you believe that fatherhood is important?
Absolutely. The article was not written about fatherhood though. As might be imagined based on my overlength blog posts, I could write books on these subjects. There are so many factors playing into things that it is impossible to address them all in any sense of internet limited fashion.
To be clear, I do not believe that Priesthood = Motherhood. I do believe though that Priesthood complements Fatherhood, and that the lack of priesthood complements Motherhood. While Priesthood and Motherhood aren’t directly equivalent, the relationship they carry can help us learn important things about each role as a father and mother.
On this point, my question to you is: Is God unjust, unfair, or unequal to assign eternal roles to us? We’re taught that gender is part of our eternal identity. Is there any difference anywhere between genders? If so, what are they? If not, how is gender part of our eternal identity if it means nothing to differentiate us?
We’re taught that there is opposition in all things. I’ve always taken this to mean that we have opposites. Most people look at opposition as a destructive thing, or something that is at odds with something else. However, I believe that God’s way is to create eternal things as complements. Fathers and Mothers are examples of complementary opposites. We each have beautiful, sacred roles to fulfill, roles that will continue for eternity. Fatherhood and Motherhood are the highest and noblest callings in eternity.
The Priesthood and all other opportunities existing in this life are meant to complement, not destroy, our roles as Fathers and Mothers. Priesthood supports both roles, but so does the opportunities afforded by having no Priesthood. Fathers and Mothers are critical parts of our identity and life, and so too are the complementary roles played by those who act as a Bishop and those who do not. In other words, Priesthood, the Church, and everything else in life exist to complement Fatherhood and Motherhood, and by viewing what opportunities God gives us currently, we can further understand our sacred roles in each of these great responsibilities.
Q: Do you truly not know the many ways this line of thinking has lead to the subjugation of countless groups throughout history?
I’m sorry if something in the article made you think this. However, I do not see where I made the claim you assert. Since it is a point of confusion though, I will clarify it here.
I raised our physical differences to highlight a question deeper than women and the Priesthood – the question of women and their Creator. Just as Priesthood helps us understand Fatherhood, so too does the man’s physical characteristics help us understand Fatherhood. We aren’t given these things by chance, but as part of a great plan.
Women, however, often claim they are denied equal treatment by virtue of not having the Priesthood. If that is true, then it raises a much more troubling issue of them being denied equal treatment by virtue of the way they were created. No matter how much we campaign against it, we aren’t able to change the stark reality of how men’s physical bodies allow them to overpower a woman. There is simply not equality, in a logical mortal sense, in our physical bodies.
This doesn’t mean that anyone is justified in hurting, harming, or subjugating another. However, if we are to continue pursuing a cause on the basis of equality alone, we have to consider, at some point, how that equality claim squares with the realities of our existence. My only point was that since the actual reality of our existence is so far removed from our current understanding of equality, either our understanding is wrong, or God is wrong in the way He created us all so unequally. I personally believe in God, and the simple reality of our extreme physical differences show me that our modern version of equality has never compelled or constrained God in how He acts and treats us here in this life.
In other words, our modern understanding of equality is not the highest principle driving God’s works, and until we seek to understand the highest principles, we cannot understand where or how equality fits into the picture, and we will end up dissatisfied or empty as we continue projecting an assumption onto our view of the world that is simply not the way God acts.
This doesn’t mean women will never have the Priesthood, and it doesn’t mean they will. Answering this question though requires us to look deeper and explore other principles, and that is all that was meant by the reference to our physical differences, as they serve to illustrate that more is at play than modern equality alone.
Q: Do you think so little of men that you believe they require coercion to love and serve? and Do you think so little of women’s contributions to “authoritative direction” that we can be easily cast aside to demonstrate a nearly invisible distinction between love and duty?
Great questions here. I think these are valid concerns based on what is written. To answer honestly, no, I do not think so little of men, or women. I do think so little though of our fallen, mortal condition, that I believe we are all in the same boat with these matters.
I’ll give examples. These aren’t meant to demean men or women, but are meant to highlight the realities of our fallen nature as humans on this earth.
I served as Elder’s Quorum President for four years. I was responsible for helping to coordinate service opportunities, such as yard clean ups, moving, blessings, etc. If I stood up in Elder’s Quorum and asked for a volunteer, I would rarely get anyone to respond. If I talked to someone directly about their duty to help, I would get more of a response. I would often spend hours calling and texting people just trying to find help to give someone a blessing. Most men appreciated an opportunity to give a blessing, but most were simply too busy with their other duties in life to be able to break away, felt overworked or stressed, or simply thought that someone else should help that day.
I’ve attended countless Priesthood leadership meetings over the years. I have yet to meet more than one or two people excited to go and be trained on everything they aren’t doing right and on all of the duties they aren’t fulfilling. Attendance at those meetings is mostly out of sheer duty, and no, I do not fault anyone or think any less of them to say that. If we were to ask, in church, for people to volunteer and wake up early on Sunday morning to go to an extra meeting to be told other things they need to add into their life and schedule, there would be few, if any, volunteering to go.
So yes, I have watched duty motivate someone, men and women alike, time and time again. Both respond to duty. I think that is the problem though. Duty makes things easier, in a sense. I can justify not visiting my neighbor because I was fulfilling my duty of attending Priesthood training. I can justify not visiting the older, lonely, neighbor because I have hometeaching families to visit instead. I can pretend that I’ve done what God wants, simply because I did the minimum required by duty, and again, this is the same for men or women.
So, do fallen mortals require duty to help them be motivated to look outside themselves? Absolutely. Hometeaching has always been a struggle. It is a duty based concept. Without the duty, who would go around and visit the home of every member? What would motivate us to get up and go see people who don’t like us? True love would, if we possessed it, but again, the realities of our mortal condition mean that we need additional help, albeit it in limited quantities, as duty is not the reason we came to this earth.
You mentioned a “nearly invisible distinction between love and duty.” I agree that there are times it is a fine line, but there are other times where the distinction is miles thick. I’ll give a real life example that highlights both extremes.
A woman moved into a ward I lived in once who was not active in attending church. I stopped by, pursuant to my duties at the time, to see if we could request her records and assign visiting and home teachers. She thanked me for stopping by, but said it would not be necessary to assign her any visiting teachers because she already had some assigned from her old ward that was a few miles away (as an aside, since this ward was in Utah, that also meant her old ward was a few stakes away).
She went on to tell me how her visiting teacher had visited consistently every month for 10 years, and how they were the best of friends. She was certain the visits would continue, especially since she still lived so close. I explained that those visits usually change with a change in ward boundaries, but she was certain they would not due to the friendship she felt existed with her visiting teacher.
To my knowledge, there were no further visits from her visiting teacher. She went from feeling truly loved to feeling the harsh reality of the limits of duty, and things hurt, a lot. I still feel sad as I reflect on the pain I saw in her. While duty can help someone feel loved for a time, it is entirely insufficient to maintain a true and lasting love, the type that truly changes hearts. Heavenly Father didn't assign Jesus to atone for us. There was no duty to Christ's atonement. It was an act of pure love, which means it has no bounds, and which means it carries the power to change.
To be clear, I don’t fault that visiting teacher at all. I have had dozens of people I was assigned to hometeach, and I simply don’t have the time or ability to keep in touch with every one of them. I have had callings stop, and guess what? I didn’t continue to visit people as I had before. I received new callings, and simply didn’t have time. All of those people experienced a taste of something approaching love, but then also experienced the miles still to go before they had someone who was visiting simply because they truly loved and cared. In other words, no lasting change or work occurred when I acted solely out of duty, as it came to an end.
So no, I do not think poorly of men or women. I also do not believe that men or women or inherently more evil or righteous than the other. I am not blind to the reality of our existence though, to the reality of what motivates many of us to act. If we don’t have the duty to go visit a neighbor, we rarely do, especially when it is someone that offers us nothing in return. It’s easy to visit a friend because of what they do for us, but it isn’t easy to visit and show concern to someone that doesn’t want us there.
I have worked with countless men and women in the church. Great people, trying their best. The ones that have really impacted me though were the ones that took interest in me, that reached out when they didn’t have to. It’s been nice to have hometeachers to call when a blessing is needed or I need help moving a heavy piece of furniture, but those people haven’t changed my life or heart.
The most powerful influence I’ve ever personally experienced is that of true love, the love that comes from a person who is not required to visit me, not asked to visit me, and who is not asked to say anything specific to me. I have experienced the harsh realities of the limits of duty (and have had others experience the pain associated with my duties ending or changing), but have also experienced the amazing goodness that comes from a never-ending love.
So, is the church better off placing every member under duty to act and using up what little time we have running about chasing duties that are necessary to exist in this life, but are not what really make up eternity, or are its members “fully functioning” and better off when we all take the amazing opportunities that are ours in the absence of duty to develop, create, and spread true eternal love, love that has no bounds or end?
While I don’t know whether women will ever have the Priesthood in this life, I personally think the church as a whole, every member in a small branch, and every person in the world is better off when we follow the admonition in Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-27.
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”
Being ordained to the Priesthood is not necessary to do great and wonderful things, or to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause." There is more to this world than church, and we need people who can keep the church going, yes, but also those who can use the limited time we have to do so much more in the world itself. We are all better off without the stark reality of the end and limits of duty. Duty does help push us towards love, but it does not get us there. Again, the Celestial Kingdom will not be filled with individuals acting out of duty, it will be filled with those acting out of love.
Please ask me whatever questions this article raised. I've tried to honestly and thoroughly answer your questions, but may have missed something. As it’s impossible to cover everything in a blog post, I’m guessing there are pieces missing. Also, to respond to a comment left by another on the original post, yes, this is not doctrine, and I do not profess it to be. It is simply thoughts that may help us see things from a different angle. I do appreciate your response though, and sincerely respect the deep questions that exist, the contributions of women to my life, and the contributions they make to the church.
My last question is: Would the church and world be better off if we simply all acted because we loved? Maybe, just maybe, what the world needs is more love, more actions by those not constrained to act, and not more Priesthood opportunities (which includes duties, programs, and trainings) to try and motivate us to do the basics each day. Maybe love means more to God than Priesthood alone, and maybe that’s why the sheer majority of those who have come to this earth never held the Priesthood while on this earth. In other words, maybe, just maybe, there is more than equality to consider in understanding God, women, and the Priesthood.
As the equality spotlight becomes ever stronger and more practices are subjected to scrutiny, religion is not spared examination and critique simply because it is religion. The question naturally arises as to why only men in certain religions hold the Priesthood, a power and authority associated with church governance and operation.
For many people today, this is an important question. While there is not a lot of specific doctrine on this question, there are a few things largely missing from the usual discussion, things that may change the way we approach the issues we see. This article shares some of those things, in hopes they can help add to the discussion in a meaningful way.
In the search to understand equality, we often miss what we do have
Understanding equality requires us to look at what we have, instead of what we don’t have. Answers are usually not found in what doesn’t exist, and answers to equality questions related to God do not come from looking at what we don’t have. In other words, we likely won't ever find the answer to equality and the Priesthood by looking at what women don't have. This idea is mentioned here at the beginning to highlight this principal, as it touches on each of the items considered below.
As an example of how answers don’t exist in what we don’t have, consider a small boy who has always wanted to play football. However, he never had, and will never have, a body big enough to play football. High school and college football were never an option for a kid like him, due, in large part, to his body shape and size. Many kids like him feel it’s very unfair to be left out of something they value so much, simply because they didn’t get the right body.
If this boy focused his questions to God on trying to understand how things were equal or fair for him between the college football players he watched as a kid and himself, he would be left with a void, as there would be no good answer to him. When focusing on what he didn’t have, he could never understand God or His treatment of him.
The things of God are complex enough that they will never be understood simply by looking at what isn’t there. What is there has to be taken into the equation as well, as it is only in understanding what is and isn’t a part of us that we can see the complete picture. Therefore, in our search to understand equality and God, we have to consider what the Priesthood gives, and what the absence of the Priesthood gives as well.
Our current view of the Priesthood is skewed
Often, in the equality spotlight, the Priesthood is viewed as something that is available to all worthy men, but not to worthy women. However, this has only been the case for a very limited time in the earth’s existence, and still is not entirely true due to large portions of the earth's population who have no real ability to join God's church.
Consider this same question of equality and the Priesthood related to why some didn’t get the Priesthood during the time of Moses. Then, males in most of the 12 tribes weren’t allowed to act as Priests, with that authority being limited, generally, to the Levites who served as Priests. For those worthy males, why were they excluded from the Priesthood?
Consider this same question with the Jews and the Gentiles. For a very long time, the Gentiles were banned from receiving the Priesthood. Even after the Gentiles were finally allowed to participate in the Gospel, the LDS Church believes that the Priesthood was taken from the earth with the deaths of the apostles, and that an apostasy occurred.
This apostasy lasted for well over a thousand years, where the Priesthood wasn’t even available to any person looking for it. What makes our current situation equal in any way to the situation of those who lived during this time, or to those born in countries without full access to it?
In other words, the Priesthood has been restricted in access for most of the earth’s history and to most of the earth’s population. Our current view of the Priesthood in America tends to ignore these facts, and just focuses on the fact that there is still a group of people in America (women) who don’t have the Priesthood. While it is a very important question, the reality of the lack of Priesthood access for the majority of most of the men in the earth’s history has to be taken into account as well in seeking answers to this question.
Motherhood vs Priesthood
Attempts to explain the lack of access for women to the Priesthood often revolve around how women can be mothers. This explanation, as many women know, doesn’t fully explain things, and the Priesthood and Motherhood are apples and oranges in many ways. While there is more to this question than simply saying things are equal for men and women because women can be mothers, there is also a piece missed by women who are very adamant against any use of this comparison.
Some women become very vocal that there is no equality or similarity between Motherhood and the Priesthood because they suffer extensively in pregnancy, labor, and nursing, while men bless the babies and baptize the kids when they are of baptismal age.
While it doesn’t fully answer the equality and Priesthood question to simply say “well, women can be mothers,” it is also apples and oranges to refute this statement by comparing childbirth to blessing a child because it takes the hardest part of being a mother (the low point) and compares it to a baby's blessing (the high point) of the Priesthood.
However, the reality is that women aren’t pregnant or nursing their entire life, and men aren’t blessing babies and baptizing kids each day. Motherhood has highs, and Priesthood has lows. Priesthood obligations extend to disciplinary counsels, excommunicating individuals, and dealing with extremely unpleasant and difficult situations. Obligations also include more mundane tasks such as countless meetings, trainings, reminders of duties, calls to shovel church walks on Christmas day, etc. Motherhood extends to forging bonds and relationships that don’t exist anywhere else on earth, and that cannot be achieved by men. Mothers simply always have a place and relationship that dads do not.
So, are the highs and lows of the Priesthood and Motherhood comparable? No, they aren’t. They’re different, but they do provide some insight into exploring what each has been given by God. However, for an honest discussion, we should never compare the low of an orange situation to the high of an apple situation. Those are false comparisons, and lead to nowhere but frustration and misunderstanding.
Women and the Priesthood ties into a deeper question
The question of women and the Priesthood drives to the heart of a much deeper question – a question surrounding our creation itself. What makes a man a man, or a woman a woman? Society currently is caught trying to understand this critical question. Regardless of what is learned about gender though, the physical bodies of males and females highlight a difficult question – why were each created as they were?
The most obvious physical difference for males and females is their reproductive organs. While both sexes have a sexual drive, the male’s is easily aroused, satisfied, and over. The female’s, however, brings with it heavy burdens if she becomes pregnant. Some studies have shown that if an unmarried woman becomes pregnant, the rate of depression is largely the same whether she aborts the baby, carries the child to term and adopts it out, or tries to raise the child on her own. In other words, she is suddenly saddled with a lifetime of consequences, whereas the father may have simply left as quickly as he came, possibly never even knowing he created a child. Add to this the natural strength of men to overpower and force a woman, and the balance seems radically tipped from an equal footing between sexes in the physical world.
Please don’t take this to say that women don’t have the Priesthood because they can have children. This is not what’s being said. Rather, it’s important to understand that God, as our Creator, created us in significantly different ways, with significantly different consequences, burdens, and experiences. These differences show that equality, for God, is not the same as it is for us. We are all created in very different situations and ways, with very different opportunities before us. Those in America have much more opportunity, usually, than someone in a war-torn country in Africa. Why is that equal or fair?
God promises that all of these things will be worked out though. This life is an extremely short blip in existence, one where we came to experience things we've never experienced before, and may never experience again. We're here to learn something, and God gives us each a unique path to tread to learn the things we need to.
Because of this, the women and the Priesthood question is really a deeper question of women and their Creator. In other words, to have an answer to the Priesthood question, we will have to also find an answer to the Creator question, or to why there is such a stark difference in the sexes stemming from creation itself.
There is no religion, no philosophy, and no place that has a good answer for why men and women are created differently, especially as it relates to the burdens associated with reproduction. In other words, there is nowhere yet to turn to find all of the detailed answers about the physical disparity in creation or the physical disparity in power, experience, and burdens placed upon each sex.
There is, of course, an answer, and we fully believe that God has a good answer. We don’t have that answer yet, but believe that we can get it as we work together in faith to find it. In other words, don’t walk away from the church over a question that is deep as life itself, a question yet unanswered, as there is nowhere to go for that answer but to God and His prophets. A main source of hope to understand the question is to work to receive the answers and information, line upon line, precept upon precept as God always does. Staying the course with the Prophet of God is the surest way to finding answers to such a deep issue.
Our path to answers has to begin by recognizing what God has given us
The small boy’s answer to the question of why he didn’t get to have a football body are found in focusing on what God did give him. God gave him other talents, skills, and abilities, because He had something else in mind for him other than football. While the boy may not have had what he valued for a long-time, he was given other things, and as he learns to value what he has, the things he doesn’t have, such as a football body, become less important.
So, what do women have? If they don’t have the Priesthood, then, by definition and as discussed further below, they have something extremely powerful, something that most people simply never see or appreciate as they are too focused on what they don’t have.
There are two ways (at least) that God’s power is manifest on the earth. The focus of that power tends to be the Priesthood. However, we are also taught, quite consistently, of the transcendent power of true love. Hold on for a moment for a more detailed explanation of this power.
There was a fascinating General Conference talk given on this power of true love. Elder John H. Groberg, in the October 2004 General Conference, related the following story of his time as missionary:
This talk is a fascinating one. “Never underestimate the power of true love, for it knows no barriers.” The power of a person’s love pulled him from the depths of the ocean and gave him the ability to continue swimming. The power reached across time and space. This is a power that changes hearts, lives, and people. It is truly the power of God.
What is true love though? Love, in its simplest form, is a voluntary recognition of the inherent worth, beauty, and value of an individual. Love involves placing someone’s interests before our own.
While love can be expressed in many forms, there is one thing common to all forms – the entirely voluntary aspect of it. If a robot were programmed to give nice hugs, compliments, and say “I love you”, we would not feel true love from that robot as love can only extend from something that has exercised the agency to truly appreciate and value our worth.
True love can only come from a being who is not obligated to feel as they do, to think as they do, or to act as they do. True love is powerful because it forms connections that do not exist otherwise to other individuals. True love brings meaning, purpose, and completeness to life. However, any form of force or compulsion to say nice things, to do things, or to think things, takes away the power inherent in love, as it turns us into beings acting like a robot.
Agency is essential to feel and convey love. Love has to be both voluntarily given and voluntarily accepted. When it is, the power knows no barriers.
This power of true love is likely truncated or inhibited by the Priesthood though. Priesthood is nearly always synonymous with duty, and duty inherently implies a motivation for doing something slightly below that of the entirely voluntary aspect of true love. While we commend people for acting pursuant to duty, the feelings associated with those who act out of no sense of duty, simply love, are much greater.
We came to earth to develop the ability to be like God, which means we’re working to develop the ability to truly love. The Priesthood duties, obligations, and responsibilities make this hard to accomplish though. Think of hometeaching. Many people don’t like having an “assigned” friend that stops by once a month. Imagine though the power of having a true friend stop by once a month, out of no obligation, duty, chance to report numbers, or the like, just to see how you’re doing. While the monthly visit from a hometeacher and friend could be the exact same in form, they would feel radically different, even from a hometeacher that really cared, simply because the hometeacher is obligated to be there.
Priesthood is essential to form a foundation for our existence on this earth. We’re in a fallen state and the basic needs of us all must be met. We need an ability to know where to turn for authoritative doctrine. We need a common judge to talk to at times. We need someone to assign responsibilities to others so that we at least keep people alive spiritually.
However, from a historical view of the world, it appears that the Priesthood is only necessary in limited quantities to accomplish God’s overall purpose. What is really necessary to accomplish His “work and glory” is for us to learn to exercise the power of true love, the power that comes from an entirely voluntary recognition of the worth and value of those around us.
In other words, it may be possible that if we all had the Priesthood, we may all lose access to an important form of God's power on the earth - true love from others in this life.
Because women don’t have the Priesthood, they have an amazing opportunity before them – the opportunity to be agents of a power of God that transcends time and space and knows no barriers, of a power that does more for the world than anything else.
Women, by virtue of having no duty to act, think, or feel certain ways, possess great power because their actions, thoughts, and feelings are entirely voluntary. Men and women are supposed to be equal partners, and it’s often hard, for example, for a wife to feel equal when her husband is a Bishop. God doesn’t call just a Bishop though, He calls a partnership. Yes, the man is currently given assignments, responsibilities, and duties, while the woman receives no such assignments, responsibilities, and duties. This lack of a specific ‘calling’ though endows the wife of a Bishop with exceptional power.
The visit from the wife of a Bishop to a member of the congregation can mean far more than a visit from a Bishop. Bishops are obligated to visit, wives aren’t. Everyone in the church knows this. So, while it may be important for the Bishop to visit at times, the power that a Bishop’s wife carries means so much more in a visit to a home because there was no duty associated with it. The visit simply came because she truly cared. In other words, the marriage partnership consists of one who has duties to make sure basic needs are met, while the other one carries the power to convey true love to others. Both are necessary, and both should work together as equal partners.
Our fallen world obligates us to have duties. However, our fallen world doesn’t mean that we’ve lost access to true love. God has always kept the large majority of the world entirely free from stated duties, as He is inviting us to learn to love, and to act as beings of love. The Celestial Kingdom will be filled with those who are agents of love, not agents of duty.
So, while there are some ‘highs’ associated with the Priesthood, there is exceptional opportunity in not having the Priesthood, opportunity to carry a power that gets negated or lessened by duty. This isn’t to say that Priesthood holder can’t also love someone truly, but it makes it so much harder for us to feel it when love and duty are tied together.
The opportunity to act and be an agent for God is missed by most people when discussing women and the Priesthood. When we focus on the power that can flow from voluntarily loving someone, from visiting when we have no obligation to do so, from taking a meal when no call came in, from doing something without any form of worldly recognition attached to it, we begin to see the power women are endowed with. We begin to see how individuals are to feel true love, and how hearts in the world are to be changed.
Yes, true love isn’t flashed around the world. It isn’t celebrated by millions, it isn’t seen on TV. It takes setting aside the vain things of the world to act without needing others to see it. It takes understanding that God's way isn't a path of high recognition or self-gratification. True love is mostly invisible and doesn’t feed our pride. It takes really caring about someone to feel the joy that comes from the opportunity given by God to love them. It takes getting outside of our stresses, doubts, questions, and worries to simply take a moment to truly care about another.
However, when we do, our joy transcends all depths, meaning comes to life, and we find ourselves embracing the opportunity that is ours to be agents of God’s power that transcends all known facts – an opportunity that exists to women because they do not currently hold the Priesthood.
Maybe women don’t hold the Priesthood because the power of God is manifest in different ways. Maybe women don’t hold the Priesthood because of the opportunity it gives them to partner with God in a free-will offering necessary to bring true love to the earth. Maybe women don’t have the Priesthood because the world won’t be saved by Priesthood alone, but by a partnership with true love, expressed at the individual level the world over.
God has an answer for why things are as they are. Exercising faith is important, yet we still need to remember and follow Him and His path, a path forged in love, not duty, a path freely taken, freely assumed, and a life freely given. If we want to change this world, we need to learn to be like Him, to act without compulsion or duty, to act simply because we love and recognize the worth of those around us. To act simply because of how important the individuals are around us.
Not having the Priesthood gives women a tremendous opportunity – an opportunity to exercise their agency to act and change the world through love. While God needs agents who respond to duty, He needs those who respond to and carry love far more. Of course, there are probably many reasons why, but perhaps love is one reason why the Priesthood has always been limited in access to the large majority of the earth’s population.
In other words, maybe, just maybe, God restricts the Priesthood because He loves us, and wants to help us learn to love in the same way He does - entirely voluntarily.
I believe in, follow, and worship Jesus Christ. “Why?” many people have asked me. “Why?” many people have wondered, but haven’t dared to ask. As this is a question deserving of a response, I took the time to write “why”. There are many reasons, of course, for my belief in Jesus Christ, but I’ll focus on three of the main ones for now.
First – We Exist
While it may not be theologically correct, I have often thought about a Universe of only one. My mind takes me back to a place and time when only God existed, and the thoughts that would go through His mind in deciding whether to create other life. While I don’t profess to have much of an idea of the depth of God’s thoughts, I do imagine that a critical issue would have been forefront in His mind. If other beings were created, what would happen if one injured another?
In a Universe of one, there would be options, of course. Beings could never be given the power to harm another. If there was no power to harm, however, there would be no ability to feel love. God, I’m sure, knew what love really meant, that it was most powerful as a choice made by someone to recognize your inherent value and treat you in a way they didn’t have to. If we were forced to never harm, then we could never experience what it really felt like to have a being choose not to harm us. Agency to choose respect, support, friendship, etc. is absolutely required for us to feel or experience another’s love as love is a voluntary and free-will choice of another being.
Robots can be programmed to never harm us. Robots cannot be programmed to love us though. If a robot were programmed to do something nice, it wouldn’t feel special or nice to us. We would know it was simply acting as directed, and we would continue to hunger for true love, the love that recognizes and values our worth as an individual, the love that motivates a choice inside an individual to act in a way that shows our worth. Banning the ability to harm would simultaneously be a ban on the ability to love as it would remove the free-will possibility of another being to decide against harm and for recognition of our true value.
Therefore, I imagine, this option was ruled out. The power to harm had to exist in order for the power to love to also exist, as love could only exist in an environment where beings were not programmed but made their own decisions. What, then, would the remedy be for beings harmed by other beings?
After going through all of the options, I’m convinced that God saw something else that love required – it required justice and mercy, consequences and second chances. If I truly love my child, I will teach my child about the realities of life, about work, about effort, about consequences when they steal, lie, or hurt another. However, I will also give them another chance when they make a mistake.
On the other hand, if somebody killed my child I would demand that the person be locked up. I would suffer a lot by the person’s choice to kill, but would start to receive some relief through the person receiving a just consequence for their decision to kill. Justice is essential to our healing process, as individuals harmed by the choices or actions of others, especially when the wounds go exceptionally deep, cannot receive full healing without knowing that the perpetrator is being taken care of appropriately. If an individual were to steal, for example, and then continue to steal over and over again, each person that had items stolen would only begin to feel at peace if the individual were apprehended and just consequences dealt. If the individual received no consequences ever, hurt from the act would continue as well. If there were no consequences for our decision to harm others, there would be no healing from the harm as just consequences are a critical part of the healing equation.
However, we all make mistakes. We all hurt others in some fashion, yet we all need another chance, a chance to improve, to try again, to change. Mercy begs that the consequences be withheld based on a hope of who we can be, instead of who we have been. Mercy’s demands operate to plead for the individual, while justice’s demands are essential to maintaining a system that all can exist within. Neither the system can overpower the individual, nor the individual the system, but both need a way to function together.
With all of this, and much more, in His mind, God could certainly see the need for a Savior, an individual possessed with the power to satisfy both the demands of justice and mercy. The perfect reconciliation of justice and mercy exists in Jesus Christ, our Savior. He reconciled these competing and conflicting demands through a love so deep that it transcends us all. He atoned for us, making it possible to repent and change of our wrongdoings, and be healed from the wrongdoings of others.
I can see no way that the Universe or individuals could exist if it weren’t for the competing demands of justice and mercy, and a way to reconcile them. Many people often criticize Jesus and His Gospel for having conflicting things in it. Of course there is conflict though. Justice and mercy have always conflicted, with entirely opposing demands. When we view things from our perspective, we may see conflict. However, from God’s perspective, He sees love, the perfect way to overcome and reconcile all conflict and opposition. When we are stuck seeing conflict, it simply means we need to lift our sights higher and see things from a different perspective. Good can have competing demands and still be good, so long as it is reconciled through the love of Christ.
There is much more to discuss on love, conflict, justice, and mercy. However, for me, the fact that love exists, that harm exists, and that we exist are proof of the necessity for a Savior. For us to exist with our differences, some Being would have to be the Great Reconciliator, and that Being is Jesus Christ, who I wholeheartedly believe in, follow, and worship due to the depth of His love for me.
People will always criticize God for conflict, suffering, and other bad things existing. However, when they do, they are criticizing Him for creating them. Why does conflict, suffering, and bad really exist? Because we exist. Because we have the ability to make choices. If we were to exist as independent beings, unique from all other beings in existence, then we had to be different in some way, shape, or form. Our differences naturally bring conflict to existence, but they also bring life, as it is through our differences that we can have an identity separate from anyone else.
In other words, Jesus Christ atoned for us so that we could live, so that we could be different, so that we could exist and experience the overwhelming feeling when someone voluntarily recognizes and values our eternal worth as an eternal being. To me, there is no way for all of us to exist with all of our differences if the conflicts we create and the principles that operate were not reconciled by the Being who created us. To me, every person I see, meet, or interact with helps me see that Jesus Christ also exists, as we would be powerless to exist without His Reconciliation for us.
Second – Jesus is the Only Name Whereby Salvation is Provided
When I look at myself, those around me, those I once knew, and those who make the news, I see something familiar – we’re all struggling to make a go of it in this life. Many of us, if not all, make some serious mistakes. We have imperfect bodies subject to sickness, injury, and death. We have imperfect hearts, minds, emotions, and feelings. In other words, I can readily see the “fallen” side of mankind.
Yet, I also see something in stark contrast to our fallen side. I see beauty, I see goodness, and I see potential in every person I meet. We are all beings with potential to do good or evil, and we all have a piece of goodness and darkness inside of us.
Jesus Christ is the only name under Heaven that offers a way to overcome our dark parts and fully embrace our good parts. He is the only name under Heaven that offers a way to be resurrected from the dead. In other words, He is the only name under Heaven that offers salvation from our present condition.
The claims made by Jesus Christ are exceptional. He says He can help us repent, change, be made new, and rise from the dead. Other religions and other gods worshipped on this earth do not offer what He offers. I can come back as a bug, I can reach Nirvana, or I can live this life and then become extinct. Jesus Christ is the only means to obtain salvation, to obtain a life eternal. He provides this opportunity to us all, asking, of course, that we also walk the competing line between justice and mercy, between employing our own effort and relying on Him for help.
I believe in, follow, and worship Jesus Christ because He has provided a way for us to continue to live, a way to be free from our mistakes, and a way to rise from the dead to be with those we love again. There is no other way or path to achieve these things.
Third – I Want What He Offers
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As a member of Jesus Christ’s church, I am taught of the promises He has made to all of us. He has promised to give us all that He hath, and allow us to be partakers of all that He enjoys. He offers family, love, power, creation, and an eternal place of value, worlds without end.
I have a deep desire to find the true meaning to life. God knows what the true meaning of life is – it is you. He knows that life comes through others, that it is not good for a being to be alone, or to die forever. He knows that all happiness comes through recognizing and celebrating the beauty and value of those around us, and by sharing the things we have.
Jesus Christ has offered to share everything He has with me, and with you. I’ll be honest – I want what he offers. I want something better than the darkness of this world, than the hate, envy, and violence so readily here. I want something more than death. I want purpose, I want a place, and I want to live long beyond the bookends of my short passage on this earth.
Jesus Christ offers all of that to me. He teaches me how to live to appreciate others, to serve them, and to walk in their shoes. He teaches me how to be part of a family, how to be a friend, and how to forgive others so that I too can be forgiven. He tells me when I do something wrong, and He gives me another chance to try again. He wants me to become someone capable of experiencing everything He can experience, and so He allows me to try, mess up, and try again. He allows me to suffer so that I can experience love, and He allows me to live, despite the tremendous cost my life, choices, and actions required of Him.
I believe in, follow, and worship Jesus Christ because He is willing to share everything He has with me. I want the good that is there, I want the life, and I want all that He offers. This world simply offers nothing even remotely comparable to what He offers.
There are many reasons I believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ provides a way for me to come to know Him, to know of his truths, to know of the reality of His existence. The way He provides is a way of change. I can only come to know Him if I’m willing to change myself and who I am. When I’m not willing to change who I am, I stop myself from knowing and experiencing what He has to offer. When I’m willing to change and let go of myself and my wants, I come to know Him and His ways.
I know Jesus Christ lives. He loves us immeasurably. He wants the best for us, and to get us there He will give us everything we need to experience, good and bad, to help us get past ourselves and recognize that the true meaning of life is those around us. As the only way to satisfy the competing demands of the existence of multiple beings is through a Savior, Jesus Christ, our Creator, atoned and died for us to give us the means to overcome conflict and opposition, to become like Him.
I invite you to seriously consider your deepest desires. Is it really to have fun for a few years on this earth and then die? Is it really to do everything you want to do? Or is it deeper than that? Do you have any desire to live in a better state? Do you have any desire to have an eternal place where you are valued and loved? Do you have any desire to escape your past and embrace a future of limitless potential?
Jesus Christ is the way. I invite you to seriously consider what He offers, and seriously consider if there is any other way to achieve it. He is the only way to eternal life, eternal love, and eternal fulfillment. Of this I willingly testify and share with you.
We can all come to know Him. Read His words. Change yourself. Seek His Spirit. Exercise faith. Draw near unto Him, and He will draw near unto you. Seek Him diligently and ye shall find Him. If you’re not finding Him, change yourself to more fully draw near to Him. He teaches us through living prophets of the many areas of our lives that need change and improvement to find Him.
Eternal riches require some work or effort on our part. We cannot simply expect a handout with no serious input from ourselves from the Being that transcended all known evil and opposition to be able to enjoy the depth of what this Universe offers. God worked for His life and for our lives, and we must do the same to begin to touch the depths of what He has to offer.
His path may require sacrifice, it may require faith, it may require letting go of our deepest doubts and fears, of letting go of our laziness, but it brings us to Him, to the Author and Finisher of our salvation, to the place of greatest meaning.
Please join me on the path to Him and what He offers us, and believe in, follow, and worship Him with me. It is the path to the riches of eternity.
Can a loving God ask His homosexual children to never marry? I get asked this fairly often, and think on the question a fair amount myself. I have watched many people lose their faith in God, or faith in their religion, over teachings related to homosexuality, and fully understand that it is a deep and sensitive issue for many. The issues are intensely personal, and there is no one answer that will satisfy everyone. There are, however, principles that help paint a bigger picture of God, principles that help shed some light on the subject and that should be part of our attempts to understand homosexuality and God.
Christian churches are generally not fully united in their teachings on homosexuality, adding perplexity to the issues. Teachings range from fully banning anything homosexual to fully embracing homosexuality. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a church that teaches it is not a sin to be homosexual, but that it is a sin to act on any homosexual desires. This teaching places homosexual members in a rough spot, as they have to live an abstinent life to be in good standing with the church. For many people, this is simply more than God would or should ask of His children, especially if they were born homosexual.
I fully recognize and respect that being asked to live an abstinent life is a tall order, one with very serious implications and losses for an individual. Because of the depth of what is asked of homosexual members, I too have pondered much of the same questions, and I have serious respect for anyone that is faithfully working to understand such issues themselves.
As I have pondered on the issues related to homosexuality, I have seen many other people struggling with very different issues. With my work and church service, I visit a lot of people, in their homes, at their office, or in public meeting places. Many are seriously struggling, and many of them are alone, internally isolated from others they interact with each day. Many carry deep pain, heartache, or confusion, and most would love to find peace, lasting happiness, or joy, but are unable to do so.
Here is a short list of the burdens I have personally seen people face, burdens that hit even the most faithful church members:
Seeing the breadth of the issues faced, and seeing the depth of the pain carried by countless individuals, I have wondered where God is in the lives of many people. I have wondered why trials are given, or allowed to occur, to different people. In addition to the above burdens, in my church service in various places across the United States I have seen other burdens related to sin. As an example, in a short list again, I have seen things such as:
Most of these people did not want these burdens, but felt driven by an overpowering force inside of them to act on things they knew would cause them issues later. For all of these people, the question is often the same, why would God give this to me?
The Mixing of Temporal and Spiritual
The story of Adam and Eve sets the foundation for much of Christianity. Adam and Eve partook, as the story goes, of some fruit that caused them to “fall”, or to receive a temporal nature that was subject to death. This meant that their physical bodies would be “fallen”, but would also be a house for their spiritual body that would live forever. In other words, Adam and Eve’s “fall” introduced what the scriptures refer to as the carnal, or natural, state into our physical bodies.
Christianity goes on to teach that God has a plan to redeem us from the fall, to enable us to become free of our fallen state, and to obtain an immortal physical body. This concept is understood by many, but the real rub comes in asking the question “why?” Why would God allow this? What purpose does it serve?
The answer is often along the lines of “because it is a test.” A test of what though? A test of cruelty where one is given homosexual desires but told to never act on it? A test hardcoding most men to view pornography, but telling them never to look at it? A test filling many people with depression, but telling them to find happiness anyways?
A Test to Become Like God
The answer to the question “a test of what” is that our test in this life is a test to become like God. To me, the key to understanding “like God” is the key to understanding many of these other issues. In other words, understanding “like God” helps to paint a picture broad enough to highlight principles at work in our temporal world.
What God Is Not
Sometimes, to understand what something is, it is helpful to first understand what it is not. God is not a being controlled by His passions. God does not act on selfish desires. God does not use His infinite power improperly, even to force me to do what He would like me to do. In other words, God is not a being controlled by any force except His own will.
Consider if you or I had infinite power in our “fallen” state. In a moment of intense anger, would that power be used to significantly harm or kill someone? Would a grudge fester into putting an eternal curse on somebody? Would physical attraction to another not similarly attracted result in them being forced to be with you? While some may laugh at such questions, it opens up a bigger picture to reflect on our times of weakness and what we might have done had we had the power to do so.
What God Is
God is the most free being in the Universe. God acts, and is not acted upon. God bridles all of His passions. God acts out of pure love, a love deep enough to allow me to learn and walk an individual path, one unique to me alone. God’s love is deep enough to recognize the value in physical suffering in a world with limited time attached to it in setting a proper course for an eternal life. In other words, God has the strongest, purest, most developed will in existence, a will powerful enough to submit to the most intense suffering possible when necessary to further eternal life.
God does not use His power for His own purposes. He uses His power for us. His work, His glory, is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” not to gratify the lusts or other forces that exist in the Universe. God is in control of the Universe because He is in control of Himself, and He is not subject to or accessible by the other powers that operate, entice, and encourage us down other paths.
Becoming Like God
To truly become like God then, we have to develop an exceptionally strong, an exceptionally pure, and an exceptionally good will. Our choices have to become the determining fate in our eternal existence. On this earth, all types of things will happen to us, and the “test” is in developing the willpower to respond in accordance with our eternal nature, in accordance with the God who gave us life.
Wills, in my mind, are created through the refinery of fire, affliction, and temptation. Wills are tested, or made stronger, when they encounter serious resistance, or serious pulls. Individual wills will simply never develop in a state free of heat, conflict, opposition, or friction. Just like metal is truly forged, tested, and tried in the midst of great heat, so too are our wills so created.
What is will truly? It is the power to resist. It is the power to act in the face of everything else saying no. It is the power to maintain individuality in the midst of our fully interconnected world. A truly developed will is the only way to be a free individual, and is the only way to become like God.
Consider the Savior Jesus Christ for a moment. Why is He a God? There are many reasons of course, but one is that He had the will to submit to the most suffering possible. When everything inside Him, including His physical DNA, screamed to stop and not drink the bitter cup, He maintained the power to act as an individual. He maintained His own destiny, and drank, sweating drops of blood from every pore.
King David, on the other hand, never developed the will to stay in control of himself. He had many wives, but when he saw the beauty of Bathsheba, He could not refrain. His will never developed enough to keep him in control of himself, and he became subject to the pulls of his temporal state, leading him to commit adultery and murder as he tried to cover up what he had done.
We came to this earth to become like God. In other words, we came with the hopes of developing and progressing to the point where we could enjoy “all that the Father hath,” which, in my mind, means His power and abilities. He wants us to become like Him, we are His children, but He knows that since His power can affect eternity itself, it can only go to those who have truly developed their wills to keep them free and independent of any other force in existence.
In other words, we can only become like God if we are truly in control of the forces that operate without and within us as individuals. Because of this, God asks us all to forego acting on serious passions and feelings. God asks men to avoid all pornography, even though their DNA may compel them to view it. God asks the depressed to keep working, the introverted or anxious to talk to others and share the Gospel, those attracted sexually to children to never act on those desires, those too socially awkward or simply without the right opportunity to ever find a marriage companion to stay fully abstinent, and those with a homosexual nature to never act on it.
Yes, sexuality is a massive force. It operates and pulls on all humans in existence. Lusts of all sorts operate powerfully on others as well, physical conditions severely limit or entice, and darkness may exist inside many individuals. Despite all of this, all are asked to “put off the natural man,” or are asked to truly develop their wills.
All of us have natural, carnal, or temporal conditions inside of us. Every day we must decide whether to embrace our natural, physical state, or to embrace our eternal, spiritual state. If we embrace our physical state, and let our passions and physical natures control us, we are relinquishing our eternal will, and our eternal potential, for a life that dies and ends. We do not rise in the resurrection with the temporal things of this life. Our physical DNA does not define us eternally. Rather, our spirit, created by our Eternal Father, defines us eternally.
The Opportunity to Become Like God
Our opportunity to become like God is our opportunity to experience the pulls, desires, and passions of everything that may keep us from becoming like Him. Yes, those things will be a part of us. Yes, God will ask us to forego acting on our temporal DNA and conditions and act instead in accordance with our eternal DNA found in our spirit.
This earth is our time to develop a will, a will that can withstand all forces that may be in existence, a will that makes us truly free from all constraints – so that every decision we make is the decision of our eternal being, the being that we will live with forever.
For all who are asked by God to remain abstinent in this life – whether homosexual, heterosexual with no opportunity to marry, or simply someone with a condition preventing them from maintaining a relationship – God’s request can be seen as a horrible thing preventing the experience of things of this life, or it can be seen as a significant opportunity to develop and forge an intensely strong will, a will commensurate with that of God’s. To truly reach the height of God, we must experience the depths of the pulls that operate at that level.
Christ forsook all on this earth, and he asks us to do the same, to forsake everything that is not in line with an eternal nature. He loves us enough to allow us to experience all of the forces that exist, and it is up to us to decide if there is a force we choose to succumb to, whether it be darkness, sexuality, greed, selfishness, or anything else, or whether we push back sufficiently to maintain our eternal freedom. This principle is the same for all of us, regardless of what force operates on us.
God doesn’t leave us alone in this process. He will push back with us, He will give us strength, and He will give us deep fulfillment and meaning as we strive to overcome the forces that exist in the Universe. God has walked this path Himself, and He knows of the depths it takes us to, as well as the heights that are ahead.
The big picture is simply that God knows maintaining our individual will and freedom is far more fulfilling, eternally, than acting on temporal natures that die when we do. Yes, God asks us to give up a lot, to give up even things that define us so significantly in this life, but He promises “all that He hath” to those that work to overcome, to build, and to forge a will of eternal character and significance.
Christ voluntarily experienced all of the possible pulls and forces in existence. When He said “not my will, but thine be done,” He was submitting all of his personal desires, pulls, and passions aside to pursue the path of eternal life. This process caused extreme suffering, suffering that was necessary to try, or temper, even the will of a God. God’s refusal to give in to any opposing force produced the will and power to truly overcome all things, as power can only come through choosing to turn away and resist the forces that be.
Similarly, in our walk on this earth, in order to gain spiritual power, we must be faced with enticing forces, forces that are so strong and prevalent and stem from within that the only way to not act on them is through our will alone. Our wills are tested, tried, and forged on our path to become like God, and this is so for all of us, regardless of sexuality, nationality, or personality.
So yes, teachings from the LDS Church put homosexuals in an extremely difficult spot. However, teachings from the LDS Church also put many others in an extremely difficult spot. When faced with this, we must decide whether we continue to push and develop our wills and capacity to be like God, to be free from the forces of the Universe, or whether we throw in the towel, so to speak, on eternity, and embrace the fleeting moments of our temporal existence.
From what I can see, homosexuality is not an anomaly and fits into God’s big picture, just like everything else in this life. The fact that Church teachings conflict with the human experience, with individuals, and with DNA even is evidence of a God in charge, a God interested in helping and loving us enough to become like Him, to become free from all known opposing forces in existence.
To truly be an individual, we have to have a pure will, and to have a pure will, we must be refined and tested by all opposing forces, as wills can only be created, built, and strengthened through our daily choices to resist. God’s power came through the exercise of His individual agency, or will, and our eternal potential and power comes the same way, through a daily walk of giving up the temporal for things of eternity.
God loves you, He loves me. He wants the best for us in eternity, and so He lets us experience all that the Universe offers, thereby enabling us to develop a strong will, a will like His, similarly forged in the furnace of affliction, conflict, and opposition present on this earth and inside each one of us.
Faith in God is often correlated with miraculous healings, and there are many scriptural and current day examples of such healings. Science, even, acknowledges that faith can play a role in the healing process. When sickness, injury, or turmoil occurs, many people petition God in prayer, believing that He has the power to make them whole. However, for many people, as the sickness, pain, or inner turmoil drags on, there seems to be no miraculous healing, and no good result from the efforts and hopes put forth in faith.
In today’s world, we often wonder where the scriptural miracles are. We often wonder why the blind are not blessed to see, the deaf are not blessed to hear, and the lame are not made to walk, as they were in Jesus’ time. Although we hear of some miracles in today’s time, we do not see them coming in the same way or to the same degree or magnitude as in Jesus’ time. This can cause us to question the reality of scriptural accounts, of religion, of faith, and of God.
In addition, we hear of stories in our times where people are suddenly cured from cancer, where they miraculously survived a car accident unscathed, or where their neighbor, Bishop, or friend showed up at just the right time – when they needed them most. However, for many who hear of these stories, their cancer may be getting worse, they may have lost a relative in a car accident, or no one showed up at the moment the person really needed them, or ever really showed up at all, for that matter. God, faith, and religion, just do not seem to work in the lives of many – many who exercised faith, but who were left alone and suffering still.
Why is it that faith can be miraculously responded to or, it seems at times, simply ignored? Why does the pain persist, the problems continue, and the loneliness deepen, even after believing and doing everything that can be done? Does God love others more than me? These are questions that tend to spin through the minds of those who pray in faith, yet still are left without.
I have been on both sides of things. I have had times when I was miraculously healed or my life was miraculously preserved. I have also had times where I have prayed and prayed for help or healing, and only felt the loneliness of silence from Heaven and the continued pain from the problems at hand. While I don’t know the answers to all of the questions surrounding these issues, I have learned a few things that have been helpful to me.
1. It often takes more faith to NOT be healed than it takes to be healed.
Being healed of something, quickly, takes believing in the fact that God has all power and can immediately influence what is wrong. This faith is a quick faith, one that expires with the healing and loss of pain, meaning that it does not often add much to one’s character, provide direction through hard times, or offer a spiritual food of long-term sustenance. It is like an ice cream cone given to a child, quickly eaten in happiness, but often forgotten the next day, with a request for even more ice cream then and each day after.
Not being healed, however, requires a very different type of faith. For those who are not healed, they still are faced with believing that God has all power, but that He is not exercising it for some reason. Because of this, they have to develop faith in a host of other things in addition to God’s power.
For example, those not healed have to develop faith that God still loves them, even though they are being allowed to suffer. They have to develop faith that God must know something that they don’t, that God has a bigger plan in mind. They have to develop faith that there is purpose in suffering. They have to develop faith in themselves that they are capable of surviving or enduring through the hardship. They have to develop faith, ultimately, that a loving God and suffering can co-exist together.
2. God has more in mind than we do.
God understands us, but we believe that we understand us too. We often think there are things that would make life better, whether it be health, friends, money, etc. Yet, God doesn’t give us these things, despite our faith. In addition, we want to relish in today, to be happy, free of pain, and enjoying life.
God knows what we need to become a better being eternally. God wants us to enjoy today, but never at the cost of eternity. God cares more about the eternal nature of our soul than He does about the physical pleasures and blessings of this world. God will withhold things that we petition for when He knows it is not what we need, and will, in kindness, withhold our petitions when we ask for things that may do us more harm than good in the eternities.
3. Our purpose in life is not to avoid pain and trials. It is to become like God.
Our physical existence often encourages us to work hard to avoid pain and suffering. However, our physical existence also readily shows us the weakness that comes as we avoid exertions and labor and our muscles and body weakens. We understand that exercise, or exertions, develop strength and power, but we pray in faith, hoping that we can avoid all such exertions at the spiritual level.
As part of our test on this earth, we will be faced with decisions where we get to see and determine what we want. Do we want to live easy and free of pain, or learn to pass through that which is required for ‘right’ to prevail? For God, His passage on this earth meant the most suffering ever known to any being as He atoned for us. For God, the status of ‘God’ means willingly traversing any suffering required, rather than avoiding suffering at all costs. If God were like us, He would have avoided the suffering and pain associated with the atonement, rather than submit, even though He possessed the full power to stop his own suffering at any time.
The only way for us to truly become like God is to develop faith in a bigger picture of existence. We have to learn that life is not just about us as individuals, it is about us as a human family. Eternal life comes as we learn to live for and serve others, and we can only develop that outlook when we can learn to see past the walls of our own existence.
Suffering ultimately helps us to develop faith in the fact that meaning and purpose is found outside of our own existence, a critical aspect in our pursuit of becoming like God. God chose to endure suffering for us, and our times of enduring something allows us to shape our inner selves into more Godlike selves, focusing more on others than on our own sufferings. In other words, our suffering helps us to see more of the world than we would otherwise see, which helps us develop a view from God’s perspective on life.
4. Trials are hills in life. They take us to new heights or depths, depending on our faith.
God is way above me. His ways, His life, His existence, is far above mine. If I take a path of no resistance, I will never reach the heights He has achieved. For me to follow in His footsteps, I need hills and mountains to climb to reach where He is located.
Our times of no healing are like hills and mountains. Of course, like any hill or mountain, these times can take us up or down. The same path that takes us up is the same path that can take us down, as the only way for something to have a path up is for it to have a path down as well. It just depends on the way we choose to travel. Thus, stumbling blocks for some can be stepping stones for others, just as times of no healing can greatly strengthen faith for some or can diminish or damage it significantly for others.
For times when we are not healed, we have to remember that we are now on an incline, and our faith becomes ever more essential to carry us up the incline closer to where God is. If the darkness is closing in, we may need to reach out in faith to others for help to continue climbing up the path together or otherwise work to reverse our course on the incline we are on. Ultimately, we have to ensure that even though we have not been healed, despite our faith, that our faith keeps us point towards God, so that we always move up, rather than down, the path of trial.
5. Healing can come through increased understanding.
Oftentimes, we plead for healing by pleading for the problem to disappear or be removed. Healing, to us, frequently means removal of pain. However, our real problems often run far deeper than our physical body, and some of the most extensive pain can be associated with questions of “Why?” or of not understanding where God is during the hard times.
When people can, for example, develop the right outlook on exercise, exercise can become rewarding, even in spite of some pain associated with it. For us, it is the same. As we pray in faith, for example, for healing from cancer, but the cancer continues, it can be useful to pray for understanding, to pray, in faith, for eyes to see what God sees, to understand what God understands about the situation.
As we obtain insights into ourselves, our situation, and others around us, we can find real healing, a deeper healing that surpasses the physical condition we are enduring at the time. Our souls long for understanding, and praying for knowledge and understanding can be a route to a more complete healing than simply praying for the physical ailment to disappear. When no healing comes, God is often willing to give us understanding about certain things, we just have to be willing to be open to receive the information.
6. True faith is about changing our own circumstances, about creating something new.
Ultimately, to pass our test on Earth and become like God, we have to develop the ability to create, to use our faith to develop and produce something that did not exist before. At some point, we have to be left on our own, so to speak, in a place where we cannot feel or see God, but where we feel may need Him or His miracles. These are our places that define us, that allow us to develop a critical type of faith – a faith that brings the power to create.
I know people who have lost hands, loved ones, eyesight, internal strength, and hearing. I know people who carry burdens of depression, anxiety, mental illness, and other issues. Amazingly, I see many of them take what they have left, and begin to create beauty and opportunity around them. Creation is a slow process, however, and so patience, endurance, fortitude, and a whole host of other wonderful traits come to the individuals as a result of this process as these individuals endure through their physical shortcomings.
Our times of not being healed leave us with a choice that will ripple through eternity – do we simply accept our fate and give up, or do we take the things we still have and create something with it? God wants us all to be creators like Him. God took His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane as He atoned for us and created something beautiful as He allowed us to repent and be forgiven. He took His suffering and death on the cross and created new life, new life for all of us. God, ultimately, takes all bad, and turns it into something beautiful and good. Amazingly, He gives us the opportunity and chance to do the same.
If God always healed us, or always gave us everything we wanted, we would never learn to create, and thus would never become like Him. In order for us to grow, develop, and progress, we have to learn how to shape our situations, determine our destiny, and move forward in faith to create a way or path that may not have existed before. This isn’t, of course, a path to get to Heaven, as Christ is the only one who can create that path, but rather is a path through life, through our time on this earth.
While God provides a way to Heaven, He does not provide a way through this life. We each get to determine and shape our path through this life. There will be miracles as we work and strive to get places, but there will never be enough miracles to make it so that we didn’t expend our own efforts in this life. In other words, the times of not being healed may need to last long enough to enable us to be agents unto ourselves, choosing our path and what we want in this life, and creating beauty and goodness along the way, no matter the depths of darkness reached.
Our brokenness serves to open us up to the power of our faith and will. If we are completely whole and always have the necessities of life, we would be able to rely on our body to accomplish things. However, if we are sick, broken, afflicted, or lacking a necessity of life, then our creativity, efforts, and faith have to kick in to survive, or, to say it another way, our soul has to take control for us to make it through. In other words, our weaknesses lead to giving us more strengths overall, strengths of the soul that bring us closer to God.
7. God loves us.
God truly loves us, even when we don’t feel it or feel alone. He allows us to become the master of our destiny by allowing us to be in places and situations where are bodies are broken so that we can develop the traits necessary to be like Him. God’s love causes Him to balance the interests of today against those of eternity, and to ensure the optimal conditions for our eternal progression.
Remember, it takes more faith to not be healed than it takes to be healed. If you have not been healed even after exercising faith, please recognize that God knows your level of faith, and that your broken or sick state may be due to a development of a greater form of eternal faith inside you – a faith that will develop into knowledge that God loves you regardless of where you find yourself, a faith that you are a child of God, a faith that gives you the power to create, shape, and change your circumstances, and a faith that you are part of something much bigger than yourself.
Due to the many facets of faith that can be developed through not being healed, God will not heal us in some way or another as we go through this life. Our faith has to transcend the ability to be healed to embrace a deeper, more expansive, and more sustaining faith – a faith that allows us to return to God. As we still work to develop true faith inside of us, a faith not dependent on our physical state, but one that feeds our eternal state of being, we may learn that we don’t need healing to succeed or enjoy life. Rather, our times of not being healed may end up being the times that brought our true self to the surface, and the times that most define us on our path back to God.
I wasn’t having the best year. In 2011, the economy was still fairly bad, I was unemployed, and I was trying hard to make sense of how I could best take care of my family. I can’t claim that there was anything about my situation that would set me apart from others in the same situation, as I’m sure many have been through the same thing. However, something significant happened to me during this time – I broke inside.
I have broken bones before. I have been in a cast to heal. With those, I was not embarrassed or ashamed, and nobody seemed to judge too harshly. Everyone could recognize the reality that a piece of me broke, and nobody wondered why I wasn’t just a little stronger and went without the cast.
However, in 2011, a substantial piece of me broke. It wasn’t a gradual process, it was a sudden break, just like with a bone, and pain reverberated throughout me when the piece broke. I don’t know what piece it was, other than that I could feel the brokenness in the area around my physical heart. I felt as if it placed a deep hole in the area of my heart, but my physical body was entirely unaffected by the broken piece. The piece was certainly part of another system of my body – a mental, emotional, or spiritual system (I don’t know which), a system that crashed with the loss of the piece.
I have always tried to be a spiritual person and pursue the things of God, as doing so had brought light to this area prior to this time. The light was good, and everything worked well when it was there. Religion had brought light here before, and I found purpose and identity in living my religion and in the light that attended my actions and beliefs. The light from my religion seemed to collect in that piece, and it served as the foundation for my emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.
The light disappeared though when this piece of me broke, as the hole the broken piece left filled with what felt like darkness. The darkness was more than just the absence of light. It was so dark, it was tangible, it had substance, and was inside of me. I had never experienced anything like it before. With the light gone, most of my internal foundation was gone, including my purpose and identity as an individual.
For a very long time, I prayed and pleaded that the darkness would be removed, that I could have my foundation back, that I could find my sense of self again. I pleaded that I could even feel light again. Yet, the darkness remained, my prayers felt entirely ineffective, and, try as I might, I could not find the light that once served as the foundation for who I was. The pain, loss, and darkness continued, uninterrupted, with no end or sense of healing in sight. I was broken, with no idea how to put a cast around the broken piece and simply fix what broke.
This situation persisted for years, with me working to find answers or explanations for what took place. I have yet to understand exactly what happened, what piece of me broke, or what caused it to break, and this article does not attempt to offer facts on those things, although I may guess at some of them below. This article also is not meant to convey the impression that anything unique happened to me – as I have seen countless others get hit with similar experiences, many of which are far worse than mine. I only share this experience in order to share that something came out of this situation, and below are a few of the things I learned.
1. We Lack Language and Knowledge of What Makes Us Work. Science has done an impressive job of learning about the system in our body that can be seen, or our physical system. In my experience though, we are still in the ‘Dark Ages’ as it relates to understanding the pieces that make up our other systems – our mental, emotional, and spiritual systems. Many go so far as to claim that we have no spiritual system, rather than acknowledging the reality of experiences with spiritual matters of countless people the world over.
With these systems, we are beginning, as a society, to break some ground. There are medicines to take to deal with problems affecting certain aspects of our mental, emotional, and physical systems, and those help quite a few people. While these medicines are a step towards our understanding of these issues, I feel they still don’t answer the underlying question of how these systems work, what actually broke, or why it broke. Rather, they are similar to Ibuprofen, taken to deal with a headache, without ever knowing what caused the headache. Again, these are an important step forward, but much remains for us in understanding who we really are.
In my experience, some professionals, neighbors, friends, or others feel they know exactly what is wrong. Those that spoke up in my life had different opinions on my issue, but all, I could tell, entirely missed and did not understand what was taking place or how to fix it. Due to their confidence in their assessment, and my inability to find anyone that could relate to the feelings, I felt alone, strange, and out of place, as if I were having an experience entirely foreign to anyone on this Earth. Loneliness, I found, made the problem much worse.
In my experience, the loneliness comes from us not understanding the issues, not having language to discuss what we feel or experience, and not having people who recognize the reality of a broken heart, spirit, or soul.
Once I recognized this problem in my life, I also recognized the way to fix it – we must create the language, the conversation, and the understanding to comprehend and address the actual issues, and we develop this by sharing our experiences. Since we often feel the judgment of others, we are afraid to share, as we all want to be accepted by those around us. Ironically, many of those around us have broke in some way or another, but we view them as never having broken, simply because we never speak about the issues.
To be clear, there are ways to share things with others that will probably not end well. For example, when we still have deep pain from the brokenness inside, that pain can be added to by comments from those who do not understand. Or, if things are said in ways that are too alarming (posting to Facebook that you often feel like blowing a building up, for example), you may drive a wedge between you and others.
In my experience, in order to create conversation, it helps to recognize a few things. First, with sharing a ‘broken’ experience, using general terms helps to not create alarm, as the more specific the conversation gets, the more people do not understand how to handle the situation. So, instead of saying, as an example, that you often feel like blowing up buildings, be less specific, saying that you experience various impulses, many of which make no sense logically, but that are emotionally compelling, or something to that effect. With people that can be trusted who are close to you, it is possible to get more specific. However, it is always helpful to remember that we are just beginning to build the language, understanding, and knowledge, and so we have to start with a general foundation, rather than moving directly to the end results of where each broken piece leads. Once the foundation is in place, we can progress to more specific points and more specific understanding.
Second, people often say or do things that hurt, and it usually hurts because we sense that they don’t understand, or that they don’t care, or think we are weak. These times though can give us the greatest insight into a number of things, including how our condition appears to others, the lack of understanding present around a certain issue, or things the other person may be struggling with as well. If we choose to work to handle these situations in a productive way, we can ultimately gain more love and compassion as an individual.
For example, if someone tells me to just ‘man up’ and smile again, I can work (and I say work, as it takes time to get past the usual feelings of anger or pain that arise) to recognize that I just learned pieces of information missing to others, that I can now try to find a way to add to the foundation and language to be built. If someone perceives that I am simply a wimp, rather than broken, I then know that I need to work to build understanding around the reality of a broken piece inside, around the pieces that exist unseen inside of us, and around language sufficient to describe these things. In other words, the things that people say and do can direct what information is missing, and where I can add to the language and understanding needing to be built on these topics.
I do not know what broke inside of me. However, due to the fact that it so radically affected the light inside of me, and was in the same area as my physical heart, I will guess, for purposes of adding to the conversation and language, that my ‘spiritual heart’ broke that day in 2011. I guess this due to what I felt, but also due to what led up to the broken piece. By way of more background, before this piece broke, I had felt a strong spiritual prompting that I had acted on. The prompting took a lot of faith, and I had fought the prompting for some time before I finally decided to believe and act on it. I trusted that God would provide as I followed the prompting, as I trusted that it was what He wanted me to do.
However, things simply did not go as I had trusted they would. I took a large leap of faith at that time, and ended up, I felt, falling to and crashing at the bottom of the canyon I had tried to leap over. I couldn’t sense God’s hand protecting, lifting, or providing during that time, and my foundation of faith crumbled, as all that I could see was failure and the opposite result of what my faith said should have happened. Instead of making it to the other side as my faith had told me I would, I fell far short of the other side, and ended up far below and far off target. Falling (figuratively) didn’t immediately break the piece inside of me though. Rather, as I was at the bottom of the canyon working desperately to find where I went wrong, my piece inside me broke, and my faith and light disappeared.
Because of this, I call that piece of me my ‘spiritual heart’. When it broke, my faith, light, and trust in God fell into the hole left in its place, a hole full of darkness. I, of course, do not know for sure if we have a spiritual heart or not, or if that is even a factual description of what broke. I do know though that it accurately describes what I felt, so I offer it as an aid to the greater conversation as we try to create a language sufficient to convey understanding on these issues.
2. Any Piece of Us Can Break. We know that any piece of our physical body can break. Hearts can stop pumping, cells stop working, bones snap, and joints stop moving. We don’t judge a person as weak when they get cancer and simply tell them to change their attitude to make it all go away.
Just like our physical body can break, so too, I think, can any piece of our mental, emotional, and spiritual being. In order to facilitate the language and understanding around these issues, we must stop judging others. Instead of judging or offering advice, we can listen. We can recognize how much we have to learn ourselves when someone starts talking about something entirely foreign to us. Often, the most sure way to help a person heal is to simply listen and learn. Healing can come as hearts are knit together in unity, as opposed to being divided in judgment.
Recognizing that pieces actually can break will help us have compassion and understanding for others. Minds can break, hearts can break, and other pieces can too. In my mind, the beauty of our existence is that our body, and our systems, are good at healing broken pieces inside of them, provided that we recognize and address the issue.
Just as I am not defined by a broken elbow from High School wrestling, or a broken rib from crashing on my roller blades, so too am I not defined by a broken spiritual heart. That broken piece is not the sum total of my existence or of my value as a person. Rather, it is an experience, but it is not me. I have seen people involved in serious accidents where the majority of their body broke in some way or another, but those people also are more than their brokenness.
In other words, don’t judge yourself harshly when something breaks. Be willing to be patient for the piece to heal, and don’t demand that you, figuratively, walk before your leg bones have healed. Rather, it’s okay to seek understanding, guidance, and opinions from others, to find the answer for ourselves of what broke and how to heal it, recognizing, of course, that many times people will simply be wrong, but that we can get closer to the truth by weeding out the things that aren’t applicable to us.
3. Not Every ‘Hard Time’ Means that Something Broke. In working to create the language and understanding, probably the hardest thing to distinguish is when something is really broken, or when it is just injured or weak. For example, I started a new construction job years ago, and after the first day, I hurt everywhere. I had carried heavy things all that day, going from sitting for years at a desk in school to intense physical work outside. The pain was intense, and if anybody touched me it would cause me to about scream with pain. I hurt for quite some time before my body finally adjusted to the work.
However, the pain was not due to anything being broken. That pain was due to me stretching myself to a level I had not been at before, and was not conditioned to. With that pain, I had a choice – stop the job and return to my previous level, or continue pressing through the pain until my body adjusted and I could operate at the new level.
In other words, some emotional, mental, and spiritual pain comes as we try to reach a new level. Sometimes we experience the pain of progression and growth, and decide to ‘quit the job’, for lack of a better phrase, rather than pushing on to allow the progression and growth to occur.
As an example of weakness, instead of brokenness, at an emotional level, growing up I experienced anxiety speaking. I stuttered as a child, was teased for it, and have always had a quieter voice that is hard for people to hear. My anxiety would be especially high when asked to speak in front of others, and it was a very hard thing for me to do.
Ultimately, I found myself in law school, and I realized then that I had the opportunity to work and overcome my anxiety with speaking. I knew that my anxiety did not stem from a broken piece of me (as anxiety may for many others), but rather from a weak part of me. Once I realized that, I started to enroll in various moot court competitions, where I was required to speak in front of judges and others who attacked the things I said.
That experience was extremely difficult for me. In my first moot court experience, I appeared in front of a judge who had volunteered to help train us. My anxiety was through the roof, and when I stood up at the podium to address the judge, I couldn’t even talk. Due to the level of anxiety inside me, I stood there silent for almost a minute before finally being able to get any words out, but stumbled through the entire thing.
In the next competition, I appeared in front of a panel of three lawyers, all of whom were bent on letting us experience the wrath of a judge having a bad day in court. After my argument to them, the feedback I received was that it “sounded like I was talking to the Great Lakes with rocks in my mouth” (I was in Michigan at the time). These times were exceptionally hard to deal with, as my anxiety was still present and very high, and the first few experiences hadn’t helped at all, but had instead caused deep pain and more anxiety.
However, I decided to keep working, and I joined another competition with a classmate that had no anxiety in speaking. We practiced together, and he trained and encouraged me in many ways. In that competition, the two of us ended up winning the competition as the best lawyer team. After that, I was able to go on to a national competition and place in the top eight there.
I don’t feel that this experience is unfamiliar to most people, as many people have picked something to work on and pushed on through even when it was difficult or caused anxiety or other hardships for them. The point of this story is that when I had a weakness, exercising the weak points, rather than stopping the things that caused pain, made me stronger. However, when a piece of me broke, exercise of that piece only caused more problems, as it would be like trying to walk on a broken leg.
In other words, weaknesses need exercise, broken pieces need healing. In our effort to establish language and understanding, we have to discuss weaknesses, broken pieces, and the differences. Sometimes, it is extremely hard for us to know if something is weak and in pain, or broke and in pain, so we may have to change our opinion of the situation as we gain experience and understanding on our internal issues.
Ultimately, our effort to understand ourselves must include an honest assessment of what is weak inside of us and what is broke inside of us (if anything at the time). If we treat a weakness as a broken piece, it will remain weak, but if we treat a broken piece as a weakness, we will experience loss of self worth, pain, and discouragement as it will never heal due to all of our attempts to strengthen it, attempts that only keep the piece broken inside of us.
Most importantly, if we are interacting with a person who is experiencing issues with something, we have to learn how to help support them in a path of healing. If we push them to believing their issue is a weakness, or a broken piece, we can keep them from progressing if we push them to the wrong belief about what is inside them. This is why we must listen, care, and help. When I had a weakness and anxiety with speaking, I needed someone to encourage me to speak, not someone to tell me that I should just accept the fact I would never speak without anxiety. However, when I broke inside, I needed healing, followed by strengthening once the piece actually healed.
With our lack of understanding on these issues, we will get it wrong at times, both when we assess ourselves and when we assess others. However, as we discuss, listen, and learn, we will get past our mistakes and move to a better place, a place where we more fully understand our mental, emotional, and spiritual systems. If we forever fear making a mistake, we will never progress, so we must be willing to talk at appropriate times, listen, and learn, and ultimately, to say sorry when we find out we were wrong.
4. God Exists, Despite, Even, Our Weaknesses and Broken Pieces. Pain, I’ve discovered, makes it hard to feel God, especially when the pain is at an emotional, mental, or spiritual level. Pain can come from broken pieces, but usually the broken piece itself doesn’t cause the most pain. When emotional, mental, or spiritual pieces of us break, our faith in, and relationship with, God is often strained or broken as well, especially if we relied on these pieces previously to access God.
I have seen many people struggle with teachings in their religion, in accepting ways that God works, or in feeling that God cares about them as a person. People carry real pain associated with their experiences or their attempts to reach God. For me, I hurt a lot after taking a leap of faith – expecting to land safely on the other side of the top of the canyon – but finding myself crashing at the bottom of the canyon. My faith was crushed, my religion didn’t have answers for what happened, and I was unable to detect where I went wrong, causing me to feel that God had simply let me crash and burn and that I was not of value.
The hardest part of my ‘spiritual heart’ breaking was that it did not fit into the paradigm I had created of myself, life, and God. I was thrown into another reality, one where I could not sense or find God, purpose, or meaning. I was angry, hurt, and worked for a long time to decide if I still believed in God or not.
For me, I learned something critical through this time. When I took my leap of faith previously and acted on the prompting I had received, I had felt God’s Spirit say that everything would be okay if I took the leap. When I fell and crashed at the bottom of the canyon rather than landing on the other side as I thought I would, my faith immediately took a hit because things didn’t turn out like I had had faith they would. The key I learned was that my faith took a hit because, ultimately, I was demanding that God’s promise of “okay” match my understanding of “okay”.
In other words, my faith took a hit because I had my own interpretation of what God’s promise meant, and my interpretation was wrong. When I was promised that things would be “okay”, God never said I would make it to the other side without crashing at the bottom of the canyon, even though that is what I decided that promise meant. My faith crashed and burned at that time because my faith was in what I wanted God’s promise to mean, not in what His promise actually meant. God knew that I could make it to the other side, one day, and that even though things would hurt and a piece of me would break, I would still be okay. With my lack of patience and demand for things now, I simply wanted to skip over the canyon of life in one leap.
Looking back, I can see that things have been “okay”. My broken pieces are slowly healing, my kids were fed, clothed, and helped by many others during this time, others who cared, who brought Christmas presents when we had no money, and who helped in every way they could. In other words, I didn’t die, even though I fell so far.
More importantly though, I found many at the bottom of the canyon. Some may have slipped and fallen there, some may have been pushed there by others, some may have tried to jump across and not made it, like me. Many, though, were there, having moved forward in faith on a path they didn’t understand, only to find themselves having slowly descended down the one wall of the canyon, with every step forward in faith feeling like it moved them into more darkness. However, regardless of how we got there, we were there, and our choice became to stay down there suffering and broken, or try to find a way to climb up and get back to the light above.
What I learned about God is that God is there, whether in the light above, or the darkness beneath. Our journey through the darkness helps us, if we choose, to find God in places we never knew He would be. Our journey through the darkness helps us understand so much more about life, so much more about others, and so much about who we really are, as we are made of so many pieces unseen to the human eye. I would never have the ability to describe something invisible that always worked perfectly. Rather, to gain understanding of our invisible or unseen systems, they have to break for us to know that something is there, for us to be able to describe and identify integral pieces that make up who we are.
My brokenness seared into me the reality of darkness, pain, and suffering. Again, so many others have suffered much more than I did, but even my taste of it let me know the intense reality of these things. Previous to this experience, I had gained a testimony of and partial familiarity with light, but now I was gaining an intense testimony of and familiarity with darkness.
As I reflected on the fact that I could feel and experience darkness, I tried to understand why these mists of darkness would come into my life. While I still don’t know all of the reasons, I did find a number of reasons that the darkness came into my life. First, it helped me understand more of who I really was. When I readily felt and sensed light, making the ‘right’ decision was easy because I could sense God looking over my shoulder. When I lost the ability to sense Him, I suddenly was tempted by many things that had never appealed to me before, and as I watched how I responded to the different temptations, I learned a lot about where my desires and values truly were as an individual.
Second, having a piece break inside of me opened me up to receive a new piece, a better piece, one from Heaven even. In the scriptures, it speaks of being “reborn” and of offering up a “broken heart and contrite spirit.” Now, I certainly can’t say that I have done either of these, but the principles of these scriptures teach that we can give our broken pieces to God – the mortal, weak, and not perfect pieces of us – and receive a new piece back, a piece that helps us to be “reborn”. For me, the only way for me to have room enough to receive something new would be to clean out the old. While I am still working on clearing out everything I need to to receive a new piece and be “reborn” with better pieces, I recognize that this was an important step along the path for me.
Third, the darkness and brokenness caused me to better understand and be more compassionate to others. It is often hard to relate to someone that appears to be full of light or that has everything going well for them in life. However, it is much easier to relate with those who are struggling, broken, or hurt as we are. Somehow the journey through darkness can cause us to open our hearts and minds to others. Of course, Satan still tries to isolate us in the darkness to keep us forever lost there, but if we resist that and reach out in compassion to others, we find our way out of the darkness as we receive help from and give help to those around us.
To me, the darkness is something that we get through only if we join together in unity. As I’ve gone through this experience, I have learned that true and lasting happiness only comes as we establish meaningful interactions with and relationships with others. As an example, I can eat some tasty food by myself and enjoy the taste, but the satisfaction of eating disappears as soon as the food does. However, if I eat the same food with others who enjoy it as well, the satisfaction of eating with the other people continues on as part of me.
I believe God allows us to be weak and broken to help us overcome our biggest obstacle to eternal happiness – ourselves. We all want to do things ourselves, we want to be strong enough for life, we don’t want to let others help us or even know that we are struggling. We don’t want to trust, we don’t want to connect, as we fear the pain of broken trusts, broken connections, and unmet expectations or hopes with others. God’s way though is one of unity, connecting, and family. His way was not meant to be forged alone. Heaven isn’t a place where we seclude ourselves in mansions and never see another living soul. Heaven is Heaven because we are part of a bigger family there, because we are there with others, because we have a place, and give others a place too.
For me, if I never would have broke, I would have been too prideful to ever reach out to or connect with others as I should. For me to learn to be like I need to in Heaven, I need to learn how to receive help, how to open up and experience the happiness that comes through friendship, through connecting with others. Due to my pride and unwillingness to connect with others as I should, I walked a broken path, the only one where I would fall too low to pick myself back up without the help of others. This was God acting, in mercy, to help me correct the problems with myself, problems that would make it impossible for me to enjoy what really brings eternal happiness – meaningful relations with others.
I know that many people don’t have a lot of meaningful connections in their lives, and I don’t sense that life is super full of them for most people. Sometimes when we are alone in the darkness, we will remain there, as people cannot see us in the darkness. They can’t see our hearts, our brokenness, fears, or weaknesses, as it is all invisible to them. However, they can hear us.
When we are alone in the darkness, the key is to speak up, to call out, to talk and start the discussion. Even though others cannot see what is inside of us, or see us sitting in the darkness, they can hear us, and if we are stuck there alone, we need to talk, as sound travels through the darkness. Satan pressures us to not speak up, to not discuss our situation, as he knows that by doing so, we will remain lost and unseen at the bottom of the canyon, unaware to those even who are also passing by at the bottom in the darkness.
In other words, starting the conversation is how we find others where we are at. God wants us to learn to talk, to identify our pieces inside, and to, ultimately, find friendship and meaningful connections. One caveat, of course, is that there are people in the darkness who have different goals than us, and we cannot simply hitch a ride with anyone that comes along. We have to make sure that their goal is the same as ours, and we should only travel with those who are committed to regaining the top of the canyon, as opposed to those who stopped believing that there was a top to the canyon.
Another benefit to me from the darkness was that when I lost the piece that I usually used to connect with God, the only way for me to connect was to find Him in places I hadn’t relied on before. Scriptures, prophets, church, and prayer became especially important for me. While many things were discussed at church that did not resonate with my situation, I came to learn they were discussing the ‘ideals’, or the conditions at the top of the canyon. In other words, they were discussing things that could give me hope, if I chose to recognize them as something tangible that could come as I worked to heal.
Even when teachings or practices conflicted with how I felt inside, I learned that those conflicts showed me areas where I didn’t understand, areas where I was weak or broken, and areas where I may be putting what I wanted over what God wanted for me. Conflicts came due to me pursuing my own expectations and desires, instead of seeking to see what God had for me. However, as I worked through the darkness, the questions, the pains, and the discouragement, I found myself part of the way up the canyon, working to regain the top above.
Ultimately, the thing I learned about God is that following Him is a journey, a journey through the darkness, wildernesses, canyons, and abysses of life. In this journey, we meet others, we gain understanding and compassion, and ultimately, we gain the ability to become like God, who passed through the full depths of all bad that can possibly exist as He atoned for us. His canyon was far deeper than all of ours combined, and it was an essential part of His path as a God. Life is a journey, not an event, and brokenness is part of the journey.
God exists, even though I broke. God exists, even though there is darkness. As I continue to try and climb out of the canyon I fell into, I find my life and understanding deepened and strengthened by my crash at the bottom of the canyon. I find others at the bottom of the canyon, and am able to find real meaning in life by connecting with others who may be struggling or broken as well. Just as it isn’t fun to eat food by ourselves, but is much more enjoyable with friends or family, so too the real joys in life come through honestly connecting with another person. The happiest moments in life are never when we are by ourselves, they are always when we are with and connecting to others. We can connect by listening to and seeking to understand the experiences of others.
In my experience, by beginning a conversation and understanding around broken and weak things, we are beginning to develop the vocabulary and understanding necessary to truly connect with a person, to be found in the dark moments of life, and to find others in their dark places. As we share our experiences in appropriate ways and at appropriate times, we can gain the ability to connect at far deeper levels, allowing us thereby to experience joy at a deeper level.
Connecting to others takes time. Connecting to God takes time. For us to truly connect, we have to get through all of the pieces inside of us to reach our true core, to find who and what we truly are. Brokenness and weakness open two paths for us - 1. A path to finding out more about our desires, expectations, individuality, and ultimately, to finding God and meaningful connections with others, or 2. A path to despair, if we choose to stay at the bottom of the canyon.
It’s okay that life isn't always like the ideal at the top of the canyon. The ideal can only bring happiness and joy when we gain an understanding of why the ideal is the ideal, and we only gain that understanding through walking a broken road. In life, we are forced to walk some road, as life doesn’t allow us to sit still. If we have to walk and work, we can at least walk and work towards gaining the ideals in our lives, even if we don’t have them right now. As I sat at the bottom of the canyon deciding what to do with my broken life, I realized I could give up and forever remain broken, or I could turn to God, gain a better understanding of Him, and start working towards the ideals He reveals at the top of the canyon, just on the other side from where I began my journey.
God can heal all brokenness, weakness, and injury. Just as my broken bones didn’t heal overnight with fervent prayer, so too my broken spiritual heart didn’t heal overnight with fervent prayer. However, fervent prayer opened my eyes to the paths I could be on, and helped me crawl along the path, or open up to reach out to others and ask for help when I was at a place I could not pass myself. Sometimes, others passed me by, not understanding or taking my request for help, but as I kept trying and working at developing the ability to explain that I was broken, I found more people willing and able to help.
Ultimately, I feel our broken times are the darkest because they are the times at which we feel unable to reach out and find help because we feel we aren’t allowed to talk or explain what we need. We can change this though, by developing the language, the understanding, and the ability to connect with others and work together towards the same ideal – regaining the light and beauty at the top of the canyon of life.
While I am still on my path back to the light, I have hope and confidence that the light and beauty of life is available to us all, as we work together to cross the streams, climb the rocks and cliffs, and endure the journey back to the light and beauty that comes from working together and truly connecting with God and those around us as brokenness leads to unity, and unity leads to life.
I’ve always believed and hoped that God answers prayers. I have prayed many times in my life, and have received answers and guidance at various times. However, I have also prayed at other times, and have not received the items I earnestly sought for. Many of my prayers have simply resulted in silence and more questions and doubts rather than in guidance, inspiration, or clarity.
I don’t imagine that my experience is much different than those around me. Some might feel that all of their prayers are answered, some may feel that their prayers are never answered, while many may get some answers and some silence. Due to the number of prayers I have offered resulting in no answer, I have had a lot of opportunity to reflect on what is taking place. This time to reflect taught me a few things about myself, my faith, and errors present in my own heart.
I finished law school in May of 2010, right as the legal industry was hitting rock bottom following the recession. Tens of thousands of attorneys were unemployed across the country, and it was virtually impossible to find work. I had a wife and three young children to support, and prayed extensively that God would give me a job.
Time continued to drag on. My prayers remained unanswered. No job, no money, and no way to support my family. I prayed at great lengths, over and over, trying to exhibit faith or something else to try to ‘qualify’ for help or an answer. I felt that the more earnestly I prayed, the more faith I was exhibiting. Yet, nothing that I prayed for came.
During this time I was upset. I had tried to do everything I had been instructed by the world and by previous promptings. I had worked very hard and performed well during law school, and had done each item recommended to make me more employable or valuable. I had worked at internships, done Moot Court Competitions, participated in the International Law Journal, and otherwise involved myself trying to increase my resume.
Internally during this time, things grew darker and darker. My prayers felt as if they never made it outside the walls of the room I was in. My life wasn’t improving and things were falling apart. It hurt a lot that I couldn’t find God anywhere during this time.
The darker things got due to unemployment and other things taking place at the time, the more insistent I became in my prayers, almost demanding that God change things or lift me and my family out of the situation. All of these prayers, petitions, and demands remained unanswered, and I eventually reached the point where I had to decide if I still believed in God, or if my past beliefs had been false for some reason.
As I wasn’t employed, I spent significant time thinking through the consequences of the paths before me. I realized then that I certainly believed in the eternal nature of the soul, and that I would only ever be fulfilled pursuing a path that at least professed a method of providing for our souls in the next life.
As I continued to reflect on the consequences of the paths before me, I saw that the only path that involved eternal hope was one with God in it. Nothing else the world could offer provided anything that extended beyond this life. I decided then to give God another try, but somehow, my heart had been slightly changed during this time. Somehow, probably since I felt I had little left to lose at that point, I humbled myself and stopped asking for what I wanted, I started asking to be open to what God had for me. My thought process begrudgingly changed to “if I’m not supposed to work, at least let me know what I am supposed to do.”
When my heart slowly changed, my prayers did too, and I started getting answers, slowly, to my prayers. It was, and still is, a slow, painful process as there is so much darkness inside to work through, but I am learning something that I should have known before but never fully appreciated. I can’t put more faith in what I think I need than in what God knows I need.
In other words, when I was praying I had a predetermined solution in mind. In my exalted view of myself, I was convinced that I knew – I thought I knew what I needed, what the solution should be, and was convinced that I knew enough to tell God how to solve my problems. However, the only faith I was exercising was faith in my ability to see and understand. I was not putting faith in God’s ability to see or understand what was best for me.
I learned then that God loves me enough to tell me no. He loves me enough to withhold something that I desperately want in order to teach me, to train me, and to refine me. He loves me enough to let my pride and confidence in my ability to see and understand ‘everything’ cause me serious internal conflict. In other words, the fact that my prayers remained unanswered was proof itself that God truly loved me, as He wasn’t going to give me that which I didn’t truly need.
God did not simply remove my problems even though I begged Him to. I learned that prayers aren’t a way for us to impose our will over God’s will. I still find myself doing this all of the time, simply letting God know the way things should be, and when I do, my prayers remain unanswered.
However, when I explain to God everything that I can see, everything that I can understand, and then tell Him based on that, this is what I think needs to happen, He is kind. He probably smiles at what I am missing still, but then, if I follow up with “and please teach me what I am missing still,” or “not my will but Thine be done,” then thoughts start come into my mind, sometimes slowly, sometimes more clearly. I learn, line upon line. I see, as the fog slowly dissipates. Rarely do I get everything at once, but I at least get something, and as I continue to seek to understand what I am missing, the light continues to grow.
I learned that for my prayers to be answered, I have to have faith in God’s omnipotence, not faith in my ‘omnipotence’. When I demand that things be a certain way, internally I am telling God that I know more than He does, and prayer and life simply don’t work that way. However, when I trust that God can see things I can’t, when I humble myself and recognize that I might need to change, then my prayers become more of a two-way communication.
In addition, I learned that I have to work for things. God is a God of progression, and He never stops working for our benefit. If I am to become like God and fulfill the purpose of this life, I have to learn how to work. I have to learn how to create. I have to learn how to overcome an obstacle in front of me. In essence, I have to learn what faith really entails.
Faith is belief coupled with actions. Praying in faith means that I open my heart to God in belief, with a willingness to work to accomplish what I am told. To me, I learned that faith didn’t mean simply asking, demanding, or repeatedly praying. Rather, faith meant being willing to work to obtain what I was asking for. When I lacked the willingness to work for what I prayed for, I lacked faith.
Even though I am beginning to see that I have to be willing to work, my prayers still often beg for God to simply solve the problem for me. Instead of seeking ways to improve myself while I was unemployed, I simply asked God to drop a job in my lap. Instead of enjoying the ‘forced’ time with my family, I complained about not having what I wanted. However, when I make myself ready and willing to work, my prayers are answered far more than when I simply ask God to magically change things, as the willingness to work is an essential component of faith.
A few examples throughout my life highlight some of these points. When I was in high school, I decided to wrestle. I joined the team as a sophomore with no experience, but I learned quickly and ended up providing decent competition by the end of the season. When my junior year began, I had registered for a lot of AP classes to help me get a little ahead in my future college work, and I had a lot of homework. I knew it was important to get the homework done, pass the AP classes and tests, and keep good grades so that I could get a scholarship, but I wanted to wrestle. My coach had set my hopes high that I would make it to State that year, and when the season began I secured the varsity spot for my weight class.
However, I quickly realized that if I wrestled, I wouldn’t have time to do my homework to a sufficient degree and wrestle. Recognizing the conflict, I did what I thought a person that believed in God’s power and loved wrestling would do, I knelt down and prayed for a miracle. I prayed that God would somehow, in His miraculous ways, give me enough time to get my homework done. I told Him I was wrestling, that I was going to do well, and because of that, I needed additional time somehow to get to my other obligations in life.
Maybe due to my young age, or maybe due to my mother always praying for me, or something else, God answered that prayer in a merciful but powerful way. I went to my first meet quite behind in my homework, and something told me that I shouldn’t be there wrestling. I ignored the feeling though, and wrote it off as nervousness for my first meet that season. The first match started, and internally I knew that I was doing something wrong, but I persisted. Two minutes into the match, my opponent and I ended up tripping and falling in a unique manner, and I tore the ligament in my elbow.
This ligament tear ended my entire wrestling season. As I sat in a sling, I thought of all of the things I was missing out on. I wouldn’t be able to wrestle, lift weights, play any sports, or otherwise have much fun for quite some time. At some point, I finally thought “What will I do with all of my time?”, to which God gently whispered “Homework.”
That wrestling experience taught me a lot of things. I learned that I had already made up my mind before even praying, and I was simply asking God to support me in the path that I chose. I didn’t ask Him what path I should pursue, I simply decided that wrestling was best for me. I exercised faith in my ‘omnipotence’ and wasn’t humble enough to listen to what God wanted for me. I was so stubborn that I ignored the warnings, and I ended up breaking an arm and tearing a ligament, all because I was certain of what I wanted.
Also, I asked God to give me something that I could do for myself. I asked Him for more time, so that I could fit everything I wanted in to my life. However, I could have more time, if I simply was willing to give up the things that I wanted. It was wrong of me to ask God for something that I could do for myself, as there is great value and growth associated with sacrifice.
Now, fast forward to this last winter. It has been one where someone in my house is sick almost every day. Nothing too serious, but plenty of colds and the normal winter sickness. I have prayed a lot that the sickness will simply be taken from our house, and yet it hasn’t. During this time of praying though, I have repeatedly ignored a prompting to go out jogging and take the kids with me. After months of praying that God would simply give me health, I finally realized that God gave me the tools to have health, and that He expected me to use them. He wasn’t going to simply take away my sickness that was the result of my not exercising, but He was willing to give me the opportunity to exercise with my kids so that we could be healthy. Yes, I learned that I need to exercise, or work, to have the health, or things, I have prayed for.
In addition to health, I had been praying for answers about my children over the last year or so, as certain ones were struggling with different things. I was asking God to change them, to make things better for them, to remove the problems, etc. But, things kept getting worse. They weren’t improving, and my prayers weren’t helping.
At some point in this process, I finally became desperate enough to ask the question that I should have asked from the beginning. I asked what I could do for them. I still couldn’t detect any specific answer to this question, but I knew somehow that an answer had been given. I tried to figure out why I couldn’t discern the answer even though I could tell it was present.
The answer to that, I eventually learned, was that I internally was blocking the answer because it meant I would need to change in a significant way. The answer to what I could do for my children was to get them a dog. Anyone that knows me well knows how much I despised dogs while growing up. I had no love for them, and always swore that I would never have a dog when I grew up.
However, God was telling me that my children needed a dog, and I wasn’t processing the answer because I didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to hear that my kids needed a dog. I wanted something like “buy them more hamburgers,” “take them on a date,” “go camping more,” or something fun like that. I certainly wasn’t looking for something though that would require me to change and give up a significant portion of who I considered myself to be.
Because I was resistant to change, the answer never came through. Because I wanted to continue on and be who I wanted to be, my prayers remained unanswered. Once I decided to let go of my pride and let go of my commitment to never have a dog, the answers became accessible and clear. I had to work to change, a lot, to let a dog into our home. I wasn’t a dog person, but when I finally was humble enough to recognize that I could be a better person by following what God had for me, I was able to start the work of changing my heart, which, for me, is a long process as I tend to be rather stubborn.
In sum, my unanswered prayers taught me that I need to trust in what God can see, not in what I see or feel, that I need to sacrifice things of value to me to obtain what God has to give, that I need to be willing to work rather than just pray for a miracle, and that I need to realize that my distance from God isn’t a problem with God, it is a problem with me that I need to be willing to fix.
In other words, I learned that prayer is about changing me. Prayer isn’t to change everything around me to make it fit my preferences. When I’m not willing to change or admit that God sees more than I do, I don’t get any answers, and my prayers are of no effect. When I’m not willing to exercise true faith by being willing to act on what I’m told, my prayers aren’t as effective as they could be.
I think of this often as I listen to people describe the darkness or confusion they may feel. Many of us struggle understanding everything that takes place in this world, that takes place in our church, or that takes place in our own lives or the lives of others. Too often, we blame the world, the church, others, or even God for things, and we lose faith. Too little, I learn over and over again, do I seek to recognize how my own blindness, my own desires, or my own problems cause the silence to exist or cause my prayers to remain ineffective.
If you have prayed and not received an answer, please consider that maybe, just maybe, there is something amiss in your heart. Maybe you are, like me, in effect, telling God the way things should be, maybe you are, like me, wanting God to give you something you could work for yourself, maybe you are, like me, not willing to change parts of who you are in order to get what you are asking God to simply give you. I have learned that God answers, but we only receive as we fine tune who we are inside to accept what He has to offer us.
Our answers to our prayers and questions often aren’t the things we want to hear. If we want a testimony of the scriptures, we have to be willing to change a lot about our life. If we want health, we have to be willing to live a healthy lifestyle. If we want answers, we have to be willing to set aside our own thoughts, feelings, knowledge, and desires to receive the items that God has for us.
The main thing that my unanswered prayers have taught me is that I’m imperfect. God is always there, but He loves me enough to withhold the things from me that detract from my eternal progression until I have changed myself enough to follow the path that He has for me. Hopefully, I can learn to focus on changing myself first so that I can avoid the broken arms, darkness, and pain associated with setting my heart so much on the things that I want as opposed to being willing to receive the things that God has for me.