Monday, June 19, 2006

Finding Spiritual Rest and Healing

This is a talk I gave in my ward a few months ago. Since this talk was a gift to me, I have wanted to share it, so I thought I would put it up here, in case anyone else might benefit from what the Lord has been trying to teach me.

I truly am grateful for this opportunity....tender mercy. [Just as a post-talk commentary...I really had a hard time starting the talk, because a young woman sang a beautiful arrangement of "I Am a Child of God" which really touched me...I realized and commented on how much that song really summed up what I wanted to say. Also, it was difficult to follow a young man who plainly talked about his experiences with healing and help during and after leukemia, and a newly married man who gave a tender talk about how faith, prayer, priesthood blessings, and the love and faith of parents brought him back to the AND to top it off, after a very hard night (only three hours of sleep), my entire family was on my bed giving me encouragement and sympathy...and my son said, "Mom, I want to sing you a cheer-up song." And he sang, "I Am a Child of God" to you can imagine what that song did to me!]

I was pretty amazed when I was given my topic. The scripture assigned to me was Matt. 11:28-30:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I was also asked to look at Elder Nelson's talk on Jesus Christ as the Master Healer. Interesting... as there's nothing more that a mother of young children with insomnia and chronic health problems wants more than rest and healing!

After laboring much and struggling to feel settled with a direction for this talk, I have felt to share some personal lessons I have learned about finding rest and healing even when physical rest and healing are elusive. I hesitate to talk about my trials because I know they pale in comparison to many. Nevertheless, I know our trials are tailored to our growth, and I am learning and growing a lot from mine. I know the principles I will share are true. I hope, too, that I can more consistently apply these principles because I know my burdens are lighter when I do.

Elder Nelson says that "afflictions can come from spiritual as well as physical causes." Chronic health problems are physically taxing, to be sure, but I have also suffered from fear, frustration, and feeling spiritually alone. This trial is giving me opportunities to deepen my faith, develop my patience, turn to the Lord more in thought and in action — in short, to become more converted. Elder Nelson said, "Faith, repentance, a testimony and enduring conversion lead to the healing power of the Lord" (Russell M. Nelson, “Jesus Christ — the Master Healer,” Ensign, Nov. 2005, 85).

This heavenly healing has begun to take place in my life. I would like to share some of the things that have opened up that healing – that divine rest.

I find rest and healing when:

I Understand and trust COMPLETELY in God's love for me.

Last summer was a dark time for me. At that time, I had the blessing of singing in a choir. I especially loved a couple of songs that we sang. Here are some of the words:

"What though my joys and comforts die, the Lord my Savior liveth. What though the darkness gather round, songs in the night He giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm while to the Rock I'm clinging. While Christ is mine, and I am His, how can I keep from singing?" (Robert Lowry (arr. John Leavitt). "How Can I Keep From Singing?")

And, "The God of love my Shepherd is, and He that doth me feed. While He is mine and I am His, what can I want or need?" (George Herbert (arr. Roy Hopp). "The God of Love My Shepherd Is," Kingston, NY: Selah Publishing Co. (1993).

At the beginning of the summer, I sang these songs with a desire to feel the truth of the words. By the end of the summer, I was able to sing with more conviction and testimony. I wish I could explain all the things that helped me gain a testimony of God’s love; it was an amazing string of tender mercies. The Spirit helped me understand this doctrine in a significant and meaningful way. He has also helped me know of His love through many of you. (President Kimball says that the Lord does notice us, but it is usually through other people that He meets our needs.)

Trials are not evidence of God’s LACK of love. We need to trust that. He loves us perfectly, and knows what we really need, which is why sometimes we don’t get what we think we need. As President Faust said in Conference a while back, "God loves us more than He loves our happiness." When I really trust in that, my burdens are lighter, and I feel closer to Him.

The concept that God loves us more than He loves our happiness ties into my next point.

I find rest as I seek to have an eternal perspective.

My dad has often said that "to struggle is the program." Lehi taught there must be opposition in all things. Eve understood that the Fall and all its resulting pain and struggle were absolutely essential to gaining eternal joy. Our Father declared that the purpose of creating an earth was to prove us to see if we would do all He commands and expects.

Elder Scott sums it up well: ”A pebble held close to the eye appears to be a gigantic obstacle. (Like a boulder!) Cast on the ground, it is seen in perspective. Likewise, problems or trials in our lives need to be viewed in the perspective of scriptural doctrine. Otherwise they can easily overtake our vision, absorb our energy, and deprive us of the joy and beauty the Lord intends us to receive here on earth. Some people are like rocks thrown into a sea of problems. They are drowned by them. Be a cork. When submerged in a problem, fight to be free to bob up to serve again with happiness.

“You are here on earth for a divine purpose. It is not to be endlessly entertained or to be constantly in full pursuit of pleasure. You are here to be tried, to prove yourself so that you can receive the additional blessings God has for you. The tempering effect of patience is required. Some blessings will be delivered here in this life; others will come beyond the veil. The Lord is intent on your personal growth and development. That progress is accelerated when you willingly allow Him to lead you through every growth experience you encounter, whether initially it be to your individual liking or not. When you trust in the Lord, when you are willing to let your heart and your mind be centered in His will, when you ask to be led by the Spirit to do His will, you are assured of the greatest happiness along the way and the most fulfilling attainment from this mortal experience. If you question everything you are asked to do, or dig in your heels at every unpleasant challenge, you make it harder for the Lord to bless you” (Richard G. Scott, "Finding Joy in Life," Ensign, May 1996, 24).

Elder Scott reminds us of the need for patience, and that some blessings we seek come beyond the veil (like a perfect body — I look forward to the resurrection!!). He then talks about our divine purpose to be tried and tested and proven, and of how much the Lord wants us to grow.

We will grow more when we willingly allow His tutoring in our lives — when we seek to understand and follow His will. Questioning His will or digging in our heels at every unpleasant challenge will make it harder for God to bless us.

I sometimes joke that I easily get my nose stuck in a tree and thus can't see the proverbial forest God wants me to see. A myopic focus on my trials instead of my eternal existence and purpose inevitably makes my burdens heavier. The Savior, whose role in the plan gives us the promise that all things will work together for our good if we are faithful, stands with open arms and yoked shoulders waiting to help me see the forest. But I have to choose to step back from the tree!

So, does the fact that I haven't been healed yet mean that priesthood blessings don't work or prayers aren't answered or that heaven doesn't care? Does it mean the Lord doesn't care about my children or my husband and how difficult this has at times been for them? NO. It just means that perhaps we have things still to learn. I testify to you that I am learning things that I don't think I would have learned had I had perfect health.

Elder Nelson said: "I recognize that, on occasion, some of our most fervent prayers [for healing] may seem to go unanswered. We wonder, 'Why?' I know that feeling! I know the fears and tears of such moments. But I also know that our prayers are never ignored. Our faith is never unappreciated. I know that an all-wise Heavenly Father’s perspective is much broader than is ours. While we know of our mortal problems and pain, He knows of our immortal progress and potential. If we pray to know His will and submit ourselves to it with patience and courage, heavenly healing can take place in His own way and time."

At some point, we are, as President Benson said, all backed against the wall of faith (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 206.)— faith in God's love; faith in God's plan, both on a grand scale and on a personal level (think of the Primary song, "I will follow God's plan for ME"); faith in His timing and His will; and faith that the Atonement of Christ truly will make all things better — either in this life or the next.

The fear and worry with which I often struggle is dissipated if not eliminated with an eternal perspective and true trust in God. I am also able to be more patient in my trials knowing that "all things work together for good to those who love God" and "all these things shall give [me] experience and shall be for [my] good." (See Doctrine and Covenants 122:4, 7 and Romans 8:28).

I hope for healing in this life. I really do. But, as Elder Wickman talked about..."But if not"...I am seeking to trust in God and keep an eternal perspective, believing there really is purpose in these difficult experiences. (Lance B. Wickman, "But If Not," Ensign,Nov. 2002, 30.)

I find rest when I feast on the words of Christ (prophets, scriptures, temple)

One of the things I've noticed the past few years is that the prophets are completely unapologetic about how hard life is, and about how trials are just simply part of the program. It's not that they are cold and uncaring about it, but they are just matter-of-fact and clear about the doctrine of our responsibilities and even opportunities in our trials.

I suppose that message has always been there, but I never really heard those messages like I have during these years of trial for me. Their words are a lifeline, helping me remember God's love and helping me keep an eternal perspective.

The scriptures and temple have also always been a source of strength for me, for they bring the Spirit — the Comforter — into my life in a powerful way, which brings me rest. And, of course, the Spirit can teach me things that help me in my difficult times.

I find rest when I have a spirit of gratitude.

This is something I am realizing I need to do more. Many of you are teaching me about this, perhaps without knowing it. For example, it has been stunning to me to listen to and associate with women in the ward who are struggling with similar health challenges. These women have extremely tender hearts and focus deliberately and humbly on being grateful A spirit of gratitude can help ease my burdens and make them lighter.

Another line from the song I sang this summer about God's love: "Surely, this sweet and wondrous love shall measure all my days. And, as it never shall remove, neither shall my praise!"

Why is it that Nephi was able to praise God, even after being bound on the ship (and nearly killed at other times) by his own flesh and blood (1 Ne. 18:15-16)? Because, unlike Laman and Lemuel, who always found reasons to murmur, he "knew... the dealings of that God who created [him]" (1 Ne. 1:12) and humbly acknowledged God's goodness, even in His trials! (Think of his psalm; his gratitude helped him refocus and refuel.)

How often I have been like Laman and Lemuel, not remembering that even the fact that the air I breathe from day to day is a gift from God, let alone the many, many rich blessings I have in my life — including the gospel, a righteous and loving husband, amazing children, a dear ward family. The list goes on and on.

With a spirit of gratitude, I am also more likely to notice the tender mercies that do come (probably more often than I realize), which reinforces my conviction that God does love me.

I find rest when I cling to my covenants — when I stay yoked with Christ.

I think sometimes people think of this yoke of Christ as being restrictive or burdensome, but the Savior tells us otherwise: "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

If we bind ourselves and stay bound to Him through commitment to our covenants, His promise is to help us. He is bound when we do what He says (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10)!

George Q. Cannon said, "When we went forth into the waters of baptism and covenanted with our Father in heaven to serve Him and keep His commandments, He bound Himself also by covenant to us that He would never desert us, never leave us to ourselves, never forget us, that in the midst of trials and hardships, when everything was arrayed against us, He would be near unto us and would sustain us. That was His covenant." (Gospel Truth, Vol. 1, p.170)

I have always loved Mosiah 23 and 24, talking about Alma and his people and their deliverance from bondage. I love reading in chapter 24 about how the Lord heard their prayers, even when all they could do is pray in their hearts. I am also fascinated by the Lord's response in Mosiah 24:13-14:
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. (emphasis added)

It was the people's covenant that caused the Lord to make a covenant to help Alma and his people bear their burdens — and eventually to deliver them from bondage.

What I am realizing more and more, however, is that staying with Christ in the yoke requires serious commitment — "serious discipleship," as Elder Maxwell has said (Neal A. Maxwell, “Becoming a Disciple,” Ensign, June 1996, 12). This is not about flaky, fair-weather following. It's not about casual commitment, nor about whining all along the way that "my will be done." This is about being stalwart and true to the faith that our forebears have cherished...and is about enduring – and enduring well! (I’m still working on that one! I like what is said by Joseph Smith in the new church movie when asked what it means to "endure well." He says, "We do our best and then we go on.")

Staying in the yoke is also about being LIKE Christ — being, as he said, meek and lowly in heart, being humble, submissive, obedient, patient and trusting. I find it interesting that the two characteristics the Savior uses to describe Himself in the scripture in Matthew are "meek and lowly in heart." I think those characteristics were shown most in the times of His trials and suffering. We have the same opportunity.

Sometimes being in the yoke is about coming to understand some of what the Savior suffered. President Hunter said:

By taking the yoke of Jesus upon us and feeling what he felt ... we learn most deeply of him, and we especially learn how to be like him" (Howard W. Hunter, "Come unto Me," Ensign, Nov. 1990, 17).

It's about staying on the good ship Zion, as Elder Holland says:

When we join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we board the Good Ship Zion and sail with her wherever she goes until she comes into that millennial port. We stay in the boat, through squalls and stills, through storms and sunburn, because that is the only way to the promised land.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, "Abide in Me," Ensign, May 2004, 30, emphasis in original.)

Elder Holland also reminds us,

Christ said, 'I am the true vine, and … ye are the branches… Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me' (John 15: 1-3). "Abide in me" is an understandable and beautiful enough concept in the elegant English of the King James Bible, but "abide" is not a word we use much anymore. So I gained even more appreciation for this admonition from the Lord when I was introduced to the translation of this passage in another language. In Spanish that familiar phrase is rendered "permaneced en mi." Like the English verb "abide," permanecer means "to remain, to stay," but even gringos like me can hear the root cognate there of "permanence." The sense of this then is "stay — but stay forever." That is the call of the gospel message... Come, but come to remain. Come with conviction and endurance. Come permanently, for your sake and the sake of all the generations who must follow you, and we will help each other be strong to the very end. (Ibid)

But what do we get for staying in that yoke, [for coming to remain]? We get the blessings

President Cannon talked about. We have Someone to help carry our burdens. President Hunter said:

Why face life’s burdens alone, Christ asks, or why face them with temporal support that will quickly falter? To the heavy laden it is Christ’s yoke, it is the power and peace of standing side by side with a God that will provide the support, balance, and the strength to meet our challenges and endure our tasks here in the hardpan field of mortality (Howard W. Hunter, "Come unto Me," Ensign, Nov. 1990, 17).

What is most stunning about this metaphor is that the Savior is right by my side, if I will stay by Him through my faith and obedience and endurance. He is close. I picture Him ready and willing to give me helpful hints and encouragement along the way — indeed, He does do that through His Spirit (the Comforter!!) Through the Spirit and His prophets, He can help me see things more as He does. If I am yoked with Him, my movements can be more in step with His. He may help me lengthen my stride when I'm struggling. He knows that the shortest distance between two points (where I am and where I want to be) is a straight line, even the strait and narrow path. Staying yoked with Him keeps me on that path and can help me avoid needless wandering.
I picture that He's not behind me, cracking a whip, nor ahead of me, waiting for me to figure things out on my own and to catch up so I can then receive His help and love. He is by my side, helping me carry my burden. All I need to do is trust in His love and His Atonement — the reason I can have faith in Heavenly Father’s plan – and cling to truth and gratitude and covenants, and He will always be by my side!

I testify that these things are true. As I trust in God’s love, try to have an eternal perspective, feast on the words of Christ, have a spirit of gratitude, and try to be more like the Savior by clinging to my covenants, the Spirit fills my soul with peace, rest and healing.
Elder Nelson says: "When sore trials come upon us, it’s time to deepen our faith in God, to work hard, and to serve others. Then He will heal our broken hearts. He will bestow upon us personal peace and comfort. Those great gifts will not be destroyed, even by death."

Although I am still a long way from consistently implementing these truths, I am feeling the blessings in my life when I do. I know that the Savior is anxious to help us, but waits with open arms and yoked shoulders for us to come to Him, to stay next to Him — and to thus be more "at-one" with God — which at-one-ment IS the source of peace and rest.

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