This month the two talks for TFOT are Rosemary Wixom’s Returning to Faith and Bishop Gerald Causse’s Is it stillWonderful to You? I found myself reminiscing about two personal moments that resonated with both talks and I’d like to share them with you.
When I was young around 8 years old, it was easy to see wonder and miracles – not just spiritually, but in the world around me. In particular at that age, computers were a new thing – and my parents scrimped and saved, and we bought one – my mother took the time to sit with each of us and teach us basic programming because of course there was no windows operating systems back then, and I can remember the first time I got all the programming correct and my name spun in colors across the screen.
Fast forward to this week as I sat working on a new database project, cursing the limitations and expressing dissatisfaction with the speed of my computer. Then later as I waited to pick up one of my girls from work, I again gave over frustration that my cell wasn’t connecting properly to the internet so I could retrieve the information I wanted in a moment’s time.
Bishop Gerald Causse expresses similar sentiments of raising his family overseas in Paris and taking the time to expose them to all the opportunities and marvelous wonders of Europe and then suddenly realizing as they prepared to move away that they had never seen the Eiffel tower. He says: There are so many wonders in this world. However sometimes when we have them constantly before our eyes, we take them for granted. We look, but we don’t really see; we hear but we don’t really listen.
When I was 12 years old, I attended my first year of girl’s camp. I was ecstatic to go and do all the things I had heard about from my older sisters. And it was exactly as they had told me – incredibly fun, an extreme event of connecting to other young women who like us, they were the few and far between LDS youth in military areas in a foreign country. I LOVED girls camp. But perhaps the more incredible moment for me was on one of the nights, during a late-planned snipe hunt, while quietly creeping through the woods I paused and just listened to the still air around me. And in that moment it was if all the love my 12-year old self could imagine hit me all at once. I felt so full up to the brim with love for the girls I was with, my leaders, and especially my own sisters. It’s hard to describe even today – I just knew absolutely and completely that MY Heavenly Father was real, and that he loved me.
Fast forward to most if not all of my adult life and just like the other example, I see an ebb and flow to moments that I experience that same kind of connection to my Heavenly Father.
These personal points only support what Bishop Causse and Sis. Wixom both expressed in this past April’s General Conference. In Sister Wixom’s talk, she shared a story about a sister, raised in the church, married to a returned missionary, blessed with children, who seemed to have it all, who had to find out for herself just what it was she believed. As she searched for answers, more and more questions arose, which led her to question the very foundation of her faith, and she became less active.
She said, "I did not separate myself from the Church because of bad behavior, spiritual apathy, looking for an excuse to not live the commandments, or searching for an easy out. I felt I needed the answer to the question 'What do I really believe?'
Often we hear in moments of extreme doubt, feelings of abandonment or loneliness and, or moments of sadness and worry that we are in “spiritual darkness”. Let’s define -What is spiritual darkness??
1. Crisis of faith
2. Questioning testimony
3. Feelings of abandonment and absence of spirit
4. Thought that God may not exist and if he does, He does not answer prayers
In a 1953 letter, Mother Teresa wrote: “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself—for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.’ Ask Our Lord to give me courage.”
Archbishop Périer responded: “God guides you, dear Mother; you are not so much in the dark as you think. The path to be followed may not always be clear at once. Pray for light; do not decide too quickly, listen to what others have to say, consider their reasons. You will always find something to help you. … Guided by faith, by prayer, and by reason with a right intention, you have enough.”
Spiritual darkness will come to all of us.
What causes “darkness”?
a. Condition of mortality - health
b. 1 Nephi 11:17 “…I do not know the meaning of all things”
c. Rage against God for perceived injustice, tragedy, or sickness.
e. Focusing on critical, deceptive, and misleading information
f. Alma 19:6 “…dark veil of unbelief”
g. Little by little our light burns out.
“We are all pilgrims seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship. We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright, and true. (Pres. Uchtdorf, April 2015 Conference)
Why do we have to have experiences that try our faith?
Why is God sometimes slow to make His presence known? Especially when we are promised to have His spirit with us always?
Bishop Causse says “To marvel at the wonders of the gospel is a sign of faith. It is to recognize the hand of the Lord in our lives and in everything around us. Our amazement also produces spiritual strength. It gives us the energy to remain anchored in our faith and to engage ourselves in the work of salvation.”
Opposition in all things
"I have taken great comfort over the years in this explanation of some of life's pain and disappointment. I take even greater comfort that the greatest of men and women, including the Son of God, have faced such opposition in order to better understand the contrast between righteousness and wickedness, holiness and misery, good and bad. From out of the dark, damp confinement of Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned that if we are called to pass through tribulation, it is for our growth and experience and will ultimately be counted for our good. (Howard W. Hunter, 1987)
“There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice to believe more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment” –(Givens, The God Who Weeps)
God will have a tried people
1. D&C 136:31 – “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom”
“Let any people enjoy peace and quietness, unmolested, undisturbed,—never be persecuted for their religion, and they are very likely to neglect their duty, to become cold and indifferent, and lose their faith” (Brigham Young, 7:42).
In Bishop Causse’s talk, he says: “But let us beware. Our ability to marvel is fragile. Over the long term, such things as casual commandment keeping, apathy, or even weariness may set in and make us insensitive to even the most remarkable signs and miracles of the gospel.”
Remember Jesus’s experience in Capernaum as disciples who had followed the Savior would not accept that He was the Son of God. The scripture in John 6:66-67 reads, “From that time many of his disciples … walked no more with him.”
Jesus then turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?”
We are forced to answer the question – “Will ye also go away?”
God wants to make us independent and spiritually mature
· Brigham Young thought God’s intention was to make us as independent in our sphere as He is in His… it may be for this reason that the heavens close from time to time, to give us room for self-direction.
Mother Teresa came to believe the darkness helped her identify not only with the abandonment that Jesus Christ felt during the crucifixion, but also with the abandonment that the poor faced daily. In this way she hoped to enter, in her words, the “dark holes” of the lives of the people with whom she worked.
We may not get answers the way that Mother Teresa did. Answers always come but not on our time table and not always in the manner expected.
· It is also possible that God’s answers are sometimes too indirect, too implied, for us to recognize because we are looking for something more palpable.
Sometimes the problem may be that our expectations are too paltry, not too grandiose. We so strain to hear the voice in the whirlwind that we fail to see the light breaking in the east. We are waiting for the message even as our world has been miraculously reconstituted around us. (Givens, Crucible of Doubt)
Bishop Causse says: “My brothers and sisters, is the gospel still wonderful to you? Can you yet see, hear, feel, and marvel? Or have your spiritual sensors gone into standby mode? Whatever your personal situation, I invite you to do three things.”
Never tire of discovering or rediscovering the truths of the gospel. The writer Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
· Do you remember the first time you read a verse of scripture and felt as if the Lord was speaking to you personally? Can you recall the first time you felt the sweet influence of the Holy Ghost come over you, perhaps before you even realized it was the Holy Ghost? Weren’t these sacred, special moments?
· We should hunger and thirst every day after spiritual knowledge. This personal practice is founded on study, meditation, and prayer. Sometimes we might be tempted to think, “I don’t need to study the scriptures today; I’ve read them all before” or “I don’t need to go to church today; there’s nothing new there.”
Anchor your faith in the plain and simple truths of the gospel. Our amazement should be rooted in the core principles of our faith, in the purity of our covenants and ordinances, and in our most simple acts of worship.
· Bishop Causse shared a story of some men who walked for 300+ miles in order to come to services and pay tithing. Ask ourselves, “If I got up one Sunday morning and found that my car wasn’t working, would I walk to my church only a few blocks away from home? Or would I just stay home because it was too far or because it was raining? What is our dedication?
Invite you to seek and cherish the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Most wonders of the gospel cannot be perceived by our natural senses. They are the things that the “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, … the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
· When we have the Spirit with us, our spiritual senses are sharpened and our memory is kindled so we cannot forget the miracles and signs we have witnessed.
· Although they had seen the Savior with their own eyes and had touched His wounds with their own hands, they knew that their testimonies might dwindle without being constantly renewed by the power of the Spirit of God.
And I’ll add two more from Sister Wixom’s talk
· Focus on what you know - if Mother Teresa could live her religion without all the answers and without a feeling of clarity in all things, maybe you can too. YOU could take one simple step forward in faith—and then another. You can focus on the truths you do believe and let those truths fill your mind and heart.
· In the face of doubt, “Stop and look at the whole picture”. - start with basic gospel truths. when you come up against a statement that causes you to doubt, “stop, look at the whole picture, and make the gospel personal.” ask, ‘Is this the right path for me and my family?’ ask myself, ‘What do I want for my children?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “Humility, faith, and the influence of the Holy Spirit [will] always be elements of quest for truth.”
Encouragement for those in darkness seeking light
Sister Wixom taught that ward members did not hesitate to give love and courtesy and support during her crisis of faith. What can we do to help those experiencing questions and doubts?
· We can offer to let them lean on our faith.
· We can extend courtesy to them.
· We can give them some space and time to figure these things out for themselves.
· We can love them unconditionally
· We can include them
· We can urge them to keep trying, placing our confidence in them
· We can withhold judgment
When the Primary children sing “AChild’s Prayer,” [video] they ask: “Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?”
We too may wonder, “Is Heavenly Father really there?” only to rejoice—as my friend did—when the answers come in quiet, simple assurances. I testify that those simple assurances come as His will becomes ours. I testify that truth is on the earth today and His gospel is found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.