Friday, March 13, 2009

Feeling the Love of Our Heavenly Father

A few nights ago, I was on my way home when a girl in my apartment complex came out of her apartment crying. We started talking and ended up walking around for about an hour. As we talked about what was bothering her, she told me that she knew that Heavenly Father loves her, that He is always there, and that He listens to her prayers. But then she asked, “but Jeremy, how can I really know that He listens and loves me?” Like many of us, she has been taught that Heavenly Father listens to and answers prayers. And she has a testimony that He lives and loves her. However, the trials she is experiencing were causing her to forget or at least doubt what she knows.

As I listened to her desperate plea to know, I thought of the words to the song we sang in primary when we were younger, “A Child’s Prayer.” The first verse begins with just that: a child’s prayer:

Heavenly Father, are you really there?
And do you hear and answer ev’ry child’s prayer?
Some say that heaven is far away,
But I feel it close around me as I pray.
Heavenly Father, I remember now
Something that Jesus told disciples long ago:
“Suffer the children to come to me.”
Father, in prayer I’m coming now to thee.

The second verse contains the sweet assurance of a loving parent:

Pray, he is there;
Speak, he is list’ning.
You are his child;
His love now surrounds you.
He hears your prayer;
He loves the children.
Of such is the kingdom, the kingdom of heav’n.

Each of us, no matter our age or walk of life sometimes reach out to Our Father in Heaven in this simple yet sincere childlike manner; life can be just plain hard. We may (and should), no matter our circumstance, come unto Christ and Our Heavenly Father in prayer. We are God’s children, He loves us, and we will feel His love surround us.

However, often our trials also surround us; our trials can be serious enough that they cause us to wonder the purpose of fighting, the purpose of even getting up and trying to go through another day, and we doubt sometimes that God is listening to our pleas.

My immediate response is that God always hears you and always knows what you are experiencing. However, as we discussed in the post, “The Healing Power of the Atonement,” “the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and faith” (Mosiah 23:21). One of the greatest purposes of this life on earth is to learn and grow—walking by faith and not by sight (see 1 Corinthians 5:7).

From the General Authorities

Ponder the following statements from the Lord’s modern-day servants:

Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy:

“Trials and tribulations take many forms: the death of a loved one, a marriage that is different than expected, no marriage, a divorce, a child born with a disability, no children, losing a job, parents who make mistakes, a wayward son or daughter, ill health. The list is endless. Why did God make allowances in His plan for disappointment, pain, suffering, and death? Is adversity necessary for one to build a Christ-centered life, to receive the image of God in his or her countenance?

“An understanding of the plan of salvation, of premortality, earth life, and life after death provides perspective. … Opposition, disappointments, pain, suffering, and death are necessary to protect agency and provide for spiritual development (see 2 Ne. 11). On the other hand, if life were limited to our mortal experience, adversity could not be understood. … Without an eternal perspective, there are no meaningful explanations for man’s inhumanity to man or for earthquakes, floods, or children with disabilities.

“We should remember that it was Satan who wanted an earth with no disappointments, no tests, no adversity, and no glory except for himself.” (“Living a Christ-Centered Life,” Ensign, Jan. 1999, 13.)

From a talk by President James E. Faust:

‘Dr. Arthur Wentworth Hewitt suggested some reasons why the good suffer as well as the wicked: “First: I don’t know. Second: We may not be as innocent as we think. Third: … I believe it is because He loves us so much more than He loves our happiness. How so? Well, if on a basis of strict personal return here and now, all the good were always happy and all the bad suffered disaster (instead of often quite the reverse), this would be the most subtle damnation of character imaginable.”’ (italics added, see James E. Faust, “Where Do I Make My Stand?,” Ensign, Nov 2004, 18.)

President Kimball gave this insightful explanation:

“If pain and sorrow and total punishment immediately followed the doing of evil, no soul would repeat a misdeed. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good and not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency. … There would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 77.)

During our sojourn on this earth, we must not get caught up in the world’s definition of life, success, and happiness. Instead, we must keep an eternal perspective. We must remember that we are here to prove to God that we will be righteous and that we will submit to His will that we may inherit all that He hath.

The Plan and its opponent

The plan of Our Heavenly Father is also called the Great Plan of Happiness. This plan gives us hope and helps us attain true happiness in this life and eternal happiness and joy in the life to come. The opposites of this plan, then, are disappointment, despair, and discouragement. Satan has many tools to cloud our eternal perspective and to persuade us to stray from the path. We know that he uses those tools to tempt us to break commandments, break the law of chastity or the word of wisdom, etc., and otherwise transgress the laws of God. However, I believe that Satan is just as content when we become discouraged or depressed as when we sin. Those feelings, the feelings of despair and discouragement, are contrary to the plan that Our Father has for us, the plan that brings us lasting happiness. If Satan can succeed in helping us become discouraged and depressed, I sure that he’s just as happy as when we give in to temptation and sin, small or large.

This knowledge should help us overcome depression and discouragement. Knowing that the feelings of doubt, despair, and darkness are only from Satan, knowing that he would have us feel that way, and knowing that God designed a plan that helps us feel optimism, happiness, joy, and love should help us shake the down feelings and embrace the actions that bring us true happiness.

Elder Richard G. Scott taught us to, “recognize that if you have feelings that you are not loved by your Father in Heaven, you are being manipulated by Satan. Even when it may seem very difficult to pray, kneel and ask Father in Heaven to give you the capacity to trust Him and to feel His love for you.” (“To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse,” Ensign, May 2008, 41.)

Our part

Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answers to thy prayers. D&C 112:10

In addition to prayer, some of the main things that God has told us to do to achieve this happiness include scripture study, weekly partaking of the sacrament, attendance of church meetings, and serving others. These actions help make up our defense against the adversary and against his power to influence us. As in my friend’s case, if you feel as though you are doing what you are supposed to and nothing is getting better, take a deeper look into your life and find areas for improvement. Perhaps you can study the scriptures longer or earlier in the day rather than right before bed when you are tired. Read the Book of Mormon more and focus on depth rather than distance. Look at your Sabbath day activities to see whether they are 100% conducive to the Lord’s day and whether they enhance or distract from your experience at Sacrament meeting. Find someone to serve; there are always people around you in worse situations, serve them. In serving others, you gain a new appreciation for what the Lord does for you, you forget yourself and how bad you feel and concentrate on others, and you develop a deeper love for God’s children, enhancing the love you feel from and have for your Heavenly Father.

The power of Satan is real, but so is the love of our Heavenly Father. Nothing you do will decrease that love your Father in Heaven has for you; God’s love is unconditional. However, our actions dictate how much we feel that love. He reaches our reaching. When we strive, He strives.
I offer one more help from an apostle and perhaps my favorite and most used quote. It is from President Boyd K. Packer:

“Life moves all too fast. When you feel weak, discouraged, depressed, or afraid, open the Book of Mormon and read. Do not let too much time pass before reading a verse, a thought, or a chapter.” (“The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ—Plain and Precious Things,” Ensign, May 2005, 6.)

To those of you who are weary, weak, or heavy ladened; discouraged, depressed, or despairing; lost, losing, or alone; remember the Savior’s call in Matt 11:

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Remember to pray, for He is there; speak, for He is listening. You are His child and His love surrounds you. We may not receive answers immediately, and in my experience rarely are we delivered from our trials immediately, but He hears our prayers and comforts His children in their trials, this I know.

Jeremy

Further readings:

Elder Donald L. Staheli, “Achieving Your Full Potential,” CES Fireside, 2 March 2003

Richard G. Scott, “Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind,” Ensign, Nov 2004, 15–18