Monday, January 8, 2018

Some Hope . . . About Hope

Experiences of recent years – and the associated questions and fears – have given me the opportunity to learn a great deal about hope. It’s a funny, contradictory thing to find oneself wishing certain hard things had never occurred while simultaneously abhorring the very thought of going back to what one was before – to the version of oneself that, while perhaps more blithe and carefree, had not yet obtained the deeper assurances and insights afforded by those difficulties. “. . . whereas I was blind, now I see.”  I wonder now at how I existed without the conviction and light that, having been woken by some greater light, has begun to stretch out from my spirit and weave itself through the frail mortal parts of my soul – shoring them up and allowing them to stand more solidly.

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I don’t mean to suggest that my understanding is any great or extraordinary thing. I mean, in many ways it is of course. To me and for me it is. Still, I recognize – even more now -- that I know comparatively little. Having removed the blindfold (that I hadn’t known I was wearing) has shown me not only . . . well . . . the beautiful landscape it has shown me, but it’s also made me aware that surely there are deeper insights beyond that hill, greater certainties through that forest, and more perfect comprehension across that ocean.

What I do know is that our Savior sees every trial ahead of us – and that He has already prepared a way through them; and that even things where loved ones make poor choices or people harm us, He will somehow turn for our best. I’ve learned further that we don’t have to fear those trials because, even in the midst of them, He is always there to help us through and to lighten seemingly impossible burdens. We may have moments of despair or of feeling forsaken, but hope and peace always come back if we reach for them.

So, that is the nutshell version of what I have come to know. And I do trust Him completely. I believe His promises are sure and that He means it – because He knows – when he tells us (over and over and over) to fear none of the things that come upon us. I believe He has the power to eventually turn them all for our good. And that nothing is exempt.

But I’ve been pondering on a further aspect of this of late because, while I believe all of those good things about Him, I often find myself still cradling fear . . . because I doubt me. I doubt my abilities to hear the promptings of The Spirit and follow his guidance to get through my trials properly – to help loved ones involved, do my part, and accomplish what I need to on my end to claim His promises of peace and joy. Certainly there is no doubt that I am imperfect. Undoubtedly I do fail to hear and act often. But I have been feeling that, perhaps, those feelings are not correct. That they are deceptions of Satan and simply another form of not truly trusting Christ (disguised as lack of trust in self).

I’m not excusing myself. I’m certainly not suggesting we can lazily do nothing on our part. I’m speaking to those of us who desire nothing more than to work hard and follow His light, His will, and His guidance – and who try to do it – but fall short or get discouraged or tired and don’t always try hard enough.

Although my own perpetual self-criticisms make it difficult to convince myself, I keep having this growing thought that He does not want me holding to this excuse to still feel fear so often. Rather He wants me to remember that His power and ability to push me to the humility I might need to get down certain paths, or to work through me despite my weaknesses . . . is infinite – it isn’t dependent only on how perfectly I do every single thing He tells me to do (though that certainly makes it easier and lets me grow and accomplish more faster). But He knows I’ll mess up some. His ability to turn everything for my good is more dependent, I am beginning to suspect, on my desires and willingness and simply on my true reliance on Him. He always always honors our trust in Him. I know that. I’ve learned it so many times. But trust doesn’t mean trusting that He is all powerful . . . but we are too weak to be guided and benefit from His power. It means trusting that his tremendous power is more than enough to compensate for our weaknesses in responding and acting. It’s trusting that He can direct circumstances to help us to the correct realizations, choices, and paths when we are stubborn or blind and need to be humbled to get there. It’s being sure that His promises to us – the peace he’s whispered to our hearts – He can and will accomplish through us – mortal, weak us.

Trusting that although He is amazing, His promises and the hope he holds out to us might fail because we are weak on our end isn’t truly trusting at all. Of course we are weak on our end. That was one of the premises of coming here – we would be weak. We wouldn’t respond always perfectly. None of us would have chosen this plan if the hope Christ offered only applied to those who would come here and be perfect at all times. True trust is letting Him bring us all hope even knowing we are weak; even when our problems seem too hard and too complex to ever be resolved or figured out.

I once had an experience where I knew hard things were ahead . . . and that the difficulty would last indefinitely; and I could not see how I would possibly be able to manage years of steps and decisions to lead to a solution. It was so overwhelming it threatened to suffocate me. After lots of praying and pondering, I felt a certainty come over me that while I couldn’t possibly see how to get from here to there, the Lord could. He could clearly see every single step, and every helpful involvement from outside of myself, and every necessary experience. I am realizing now that all those steps He could see took into account the backward steps and side steps and paused steps where I would surely be weak or make mistakes.

I felt that theme emerge for me as I listened to our church’s General Conference last October.

In talking about the Savior Elder Vincent Haleck said, "In spite of our weaknesses and failings, and because of them, He continues to offer His hands, which were pierced for our sakes. He will lift us up if we are willing . . . and allow Him to fill our ‘want’.”

President Uchtdorf said, “Often, when we look at ourselves, we see only our limitations and deficiencies. We might think we have to be ‘more’ of something for God to use us. . . . Blessings will come not so much because of your abilities but because of your choices. And the God of the Universe will work within and through you, magnifying your humble efforts for His purposes.”

He also talked about some of the early saints such as Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and Thomas B. Marsh and the significant contributions they made to the Restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ. He said, “. . . they were not perfect, but how encouraging it is to know that God was able to use them anyway. . . . How encouraging it is to know, though we are imperfect, if our hearts are turned to God, He will be generous and kind and use us for His purposes.”

I have felt since continually reminded (because I forget . . . constantly and revert back to my old way of fearful thinking) to rely on His grace in wading through the complicated struggles ahead of me and to simply trust Him; and not with conditional trust based on how perfect I am, but with complete trust that He not only can, but WILL guide me through -- despite my weaknesses. As Elder Holland said, “Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven – we can’t ‘earn’ it. Thus the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also from our own persistent self-criticism.”

Again, I don’t in any way mean to suggest an idle “all is well in zion” mentality. Between my desires and my anxieties I don’t think I could adopt that attitude. But I do feel that I need to let His promises to make all things work for our good and his repeated admonitions to “fear not” fill me with a more perfect hope – despite my imperfect efforts.

D&C 100:12
Therefore, continue your journey and let your hearts rejoice; for behold and lo, I am with you even unto the end.

D&C 78:18
. . . be of good cheer, for I will lead you along . . .

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Marilyn said...

Oh, I love this so so much! Such calming and illuminating doctrine. I loved this: “Having removed the blindfold (that I hadn’t known I was wearing) has shown me not only . . . well . . . the beautiful landscape it has shown me, but it’s also made me aware that surely there are deeper insights beyond that hill, greater certainties through that forest, and more perfect comprehension across that ocean.”

And I have to think you are right about the “hope in self” thing too. I have echoed so many of these same thoughts. “I’m sure God CAN make things go well, but NOT when I keep messing them up and missing chances to improve! It’s not him, it’s me!” I hadn’t thought about how that’s just a different way of saying “he can’t help me.” I know he won’t FORCE us to follow him, but as you said, when we WANT to follow him and are just BAD at it, why would that stop Him?

I remember saying to my bishop in tears once, “I know he understands pain and sorrow, but how he can understand what it feels like to have ruined something ALL YOURSELF; to have known you were sinning and still sinned? He never did that, so how could he understand?” And my bishop said, “I don’t know, but that’s a question you have to ask him yourself.” And when I did that, I just felt, “it doesn’t matter how, but I do understand. I do.”

And I feel that same sort of reassurance when you say “his tremendous power is more than enough to compensate for our weaknesses in responding and acting.” It really is that simple. Someone who was powerful, but not powerful enough to make up for our weakness, wouldn’t really be THAT powerful after all. And I loved the Elder Uchtdorf quotes. So much hope and encouragement there!

Such a beautiful post. Just what I needed. Thanks for writing it! ��

Becca said...

Ahhhhhhhh, I'ma make a permanent link to your blog on my blog. Because I love your writing and your insights. The two combined are a one-two punch that I can use to fight against my own fears and doubts and insecurities. Thanks for this one.

Nancy said...

Ahh! Becca! You delightful human you! This comment was a glorious surprise because I have only ever seen snippets of your marvelous writing on fb but I keep forgetting fb exists and thus missing all your goodness!! But now I have a link to your very own blog in my feed reader and I couldn’t be more content. No. That is not true. I was listening to Cold is the Night by the Oh Hellos the other day and now I am remembering that I will be even more content when I get more good folksy song suggestions from you!

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