Immerse yourself in the scriptures. You will find your own experiences described there. You will find spirit and strength there. You will find solutions and counsel. Nephi says, “The words of Christ will tell you all things [that] you should do” (2 Ne. 32:3).
Pray earnestly and fast with purpose and devotion. Some difficulties, like devils, come not out “save by fasting and by prayer.”
Serve others. The heavenly paradox is that only in so doing can you save yourself.
Be patient. As Robert Frost said, with many things the only way out is through. Keep moving. Keep trying.
Have faith. “Has the day of miracles ceased?
“Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
“Behold I say unto you, Nay; for … it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men.” (Moro. 7:35–37.)
I'm going to keep working, keep trying. I'm going to study the scriptures. I'm going to fast weekly for the next few weeks. I've done it in the past when I've needed extra spiritual strength, and it is a sweet way to grow closer to Heavenly Father, and a wonderful way to grow stronger. I'm going to choose to have faith that Heavenly Father can make my weaknesses strengths so that I can serve Him better. I'm finding that choosing to have faith is both easier and harder than I ever thought it would be. Sometimes I make the very conscious choice to say, "I have faith. I believe that Heavenly Father can help me change" and to really believe it.
It's been over a year since I made this commitment, and what a year it has been. This is some of what has taken place:
- My little brother died in a tragic drowning accident.
- My piano teacher died.
- Along with these deaths, we were touched by the deaths of 6 other people, all within 2 months of my brother's death.
- Finances were a major source of discouragement.
- Thing after thing after thing broke down in our home and in our cars.
- Our dog kept getting older (as living things tend to do. What's that about?) and has created much work...work of a most disgusting nature. I will spare you details. Be grateful.
- I felt inspired to prepare for an audition for the doctoral program in piano at our nearest university, which meant I practiced 2-5 hours a day for 6 months. And then I didn't get in.
- My hard drive died and we lost 2 1/2 years of pictures, writing and financial information.
- I had important relationships fall apart completely.
- So much sickness. Seriously. We were sick for months.
- Devastating things happened that I can't talk about publicly, but which have changed relationships, my perceptions of the world and those around me, and which cannot be resolved in any quick or easy way.
Those are the major issues, but of course there were minor ones, too, which added to the daily stress.
Why do I reference all this negativity? Because I survived. Not only have I survived, but I've survived with more peace than I ever would have expected. And I see the hand of God in my survival, in my peace, in the lessons I've learned.
This is the result of my experiment, based on Elder Holland's talk:
1. "Immerse yourself in the scriptures." A short time after I made the commitment to try these things, I came across a new idea for studying scriptures. Basically, you go to the scriptures with a question and read until you feel the spirit testify the answer to you. This was life-changing for me. I have had more exact answers to questions than I ever dreamed possible. I knew when the Lord was directing my path and that He was mindful of me and my family.
2. "Pray earnestly and fast with purpose and devotion." I tried to have more kneeling and vocal prayers. I prayed more frequently. And I've fasted almost every Sunday since April of 2010. I've fasted for help, for relief, and mostly for others. I've learned to do better at doing an almost-24-hour fast. Maybe one day I'll be as good as my mother-in-law at doing an actual-24-hour fast, but at least I'm doing better. I have had weeks where David's told me I had to eat so I wouldn't be so grumpy, but overall, I've had some amazing experiences.
3. "Serve others." My mom told me she was worried that I was losing myself in my practicing, that I was failing to see the needs of others. I worried that, too. I started to pay more attention to the needs of those around me, and found that I was stretched to be able to help. Some days I was so exhausted I didn't do a great job, but I had more joy when I watched for chances to help. I still have a way to go on this one.
4. "Be patient." This is HARD. HARD HARD HARD. I found a quote last summer from Winston Churchill: "If you're going through hell, keep going." Well, I kept going. Through new hell after new hell. I admit to having a few pity parties on the path through, and I know I have been less patient than I might have been. But overall, when I don't know where the money for the mortgage payment is coming from and I want to scratch my eyes out from fighting children and I don't understand how so much could go wrong, I've learned to make cookies, turn on music, say another prayer, and wait for the hand of the Lord. We haven't missed a mortgage payment yet, one of the relationships that seemed destroyed for good has been redeemed, and my cookies have improved dramatically. I have had to stop eating them because they made me gain 6 pounds, but they've helped my patience level.
5. "Have faith." Do I have faith? Yes. Do I believe in an all-knowing, loving God? Yes. Do I know why He allows some things to happen? No. Do I believe differently than I used to? Absolutely yes. I used to have an "a + b = c" kind of faith. I thought if I did "a + b", then God would give me "c." "C" of course was a happy life with great relationships, plenty of money for wants and needs, peace of mind, and an easy road out of all trials. Yup. That's not how it works. Pretty much I now believe that if I do "a + b," there are no guarantees. Doing is important, but perceiving is even more important. Choice is important. Trust is important. And knowing God allows us our agency, even though it creates so much pain, is important. And the miracle I've experienced is the miracle of a changed heart.
Heavenly Father asks us to experiment on His word, that if we plant a seed and nourish it, we'll know whether or not it's true based on how it grows. This is what has grown in my heart:
- Peace. When the world has fallen apart around me, when I didn't get in to the DMA program, when people have disappointed me and torn apart our world, when I wasn't sure how to keep going on one more day, I've often been able to feel the most extreme peace. Not always. Some times I despaired. But at the worst of times, I've felt cushioned from the pain and very very loved.
- Love. I've been able to experience love towards those who don't "deserve" love and learned in loving them that all of us do indeed deserve love, and that loving those who bring us pain helps us feel more like instrument in God's hands. I've watched others love those who haven't earned it and have learned so much from their example.
- Hope. I have felt hopelessness before. I don't much like it. I much prefer hope. Hope is a choice. Hope is choosing to look for things to be grateful for in the middle of dark dark times. Hope is looking beyond the next month or year and trusting that Heavenly Father has a plan. Hope is holding on through darkness, waiting for the light, actively SEARCHING for the light.
It hasn't been a perfect year. I've spent time wailing on my closet floor. I have had weeks where I don't want to open my scriptures, and days that I question and shake my fist and get really mad at those around me. But overall?
Overall, I am so grateful. I am aware that Heavenly Father loves me and will continue to shape me as he sees fit. It doesn't feel good much of the time. Really, it hurts. But if I can keep the peace, the love, and the hope that I have gained from my experiment, I think I can endure the shaping.
That doesn't mean I want any more trials for a while. Can I spend some time at the oasis before being cast into the desert?
(It's always dangerous to ask that question. Maybe I should erase that last paragraph...)