06 February 2014

Oh, those feelings . . .

After a Relief Society meeting a couple of years ago, a well-intentioned sister in my ward approached me to ask after one of my children, who was having trouble with reading. While she was kind in tone and seemed a little hesitant to bring it up, she and I didn't have a relationship that made the kind of questioning she did comfortable. Despite being neighbors and in the same ward, a deep uneasiness lay between us, born of her fundamentally different view of homeschooling from the one I held and practiced.  The shellac of civilized courtesy only seemed to highlight it. I did my best to answer her questions in a way that would satisfy her, but in such a public place, and feeling myself in not only a very vulnerable position but a highly public one, surrounded as we were by chatting sisters on every side, I frankly felt attacked and betrayed.

I left directly afterward, making it to my car without having to talk to anyone else. On the drive home, I went over the exchange in my mind, and began to cry. The balance of enmity, not in hostile feeling but in opposing views, and my fear that her loyalties lay outside of my family's well-being as determined by Vern and me brought a strong feeling of condemnation.  The sense of being trapped slowly grew, and more tears came. I remember the green of the dash clock shining, the black of wet pavement, and the streetlights reflecting in long streaks towards me as I drove. And the words "She's judging me" ran through my head, over and over, behind the replay of our conversation. I almost heard them, they came so clearly.

I was about halfway home on my ten minute drive. And then, just as clearly, but in a lower, firmer, but utterly calm and gentle tone came the words:

"You are judging her."

Those words stopped me, dead, in my mental tracks. And, as I realized the truth of that thought, all the things I didn't know came to my mind. I had no idea of her true motives. (Fear, yes. Knowledge, no.) I didn't know what she would do, if anything. And as I realized these things (i.e. as the Holy Ghost spoke them to my mind), all the crazy trapped-bird trauma of the previous minutes simply evaporated.

Over the next few days, I meditated on that experience. It taught me a lot of things . . . but the one standing out most clearly to me now is the way the words "She's judging me" kept running through my head. They came in a voice I had known my entire life. A voice I had always thought was the voice of my own thoughts. And yet, I realized they came into my mind exactly the same way heavenly inspiration came: suddenly, in complete sentences, when I was thinking or doing something else.

Now, I like to think I'm no dullard--but I'm no Einstein, either. (Unless you compare our basic math grades. I can spank Albert there any ol' day.) ;o) One thing I do know: unless I'm thinking about something carefully, I tend to get vague feelings, and in order to work through them, I have to speak or write. I've always known that worded promptings come in complete sentences or thoughts, with very definite or clearly defined wording. And I realized, kneeling in my room one day in prayer, that the mental voice wasn't my mental voice, with genesis in my own mind. It was a spiritual voice; after all, what is spirit, if not mind? I had always claimed it as my own, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was the whisperings of the adversary's disciple, who spoke in first person. (Who says dark angels have to speak as themselves, in what sounds like third person to you and me? They'll phrase things so it sounds like our own thoughts, so as to not give themselves away.)

Over the ensuing days, I began to listen more closely to the words that came into my mind, and it became easier and easier to discern between the Holy Ghost and that other voice. (The voice I no longer claimed as my own.) ;o) It took that voice's owner a little while to show any evidence that s/he had caught on, but I rarely heard it after that little while.

What came afterward, though, was an onslaught of feelings. Bucket loads of fear, shame, fatigue, sorrow, condemnation, depression, anxiety, and all of their friends. Pretty much every day. (And I mean excavator bucket loads. You know, the ones that could scoop up several cows at once.) Those presented their own learning experience. During this time, I was learning to let go of the idea that God put us through hard or painful things for our own good. To reject the idea that bad things come from a God in whom is no corruption, no shadow of changing, and no darkness. And as I went through that renewing of my mind, I realized something new and earth-shattering for me:

God didn't want me to be sad.

Or depressed.

Or overwhelmed.

And not only did He NOT want me to feel those things (that had trapped me for such a long, long time), He was not the source of them! I didn't have to learn any lessons for my own good. I didn't have to tough it out, suffering in submission until He decided I'd had enough and could move onto the next trial.

Suddenly, God was Good.

And I realized that if nothing bad comes from Him, then none of these overwhelming, negative, handicapping feelings were part of His will for me.

And, if God didn't want those feelings in my life, then I didn't have to claim them! Or keep them! If God didn't want them in my life, then He wanted them gone. And that meant I only still had them because I held onto them, I owned them, because I thought it was part of the lesson God had for me to learn, because whatever it was, it was something I had to learn for myself. And I was going to be a good disciple and bear the burden He put on my back. But He didn't put it there! He didn't want it there! Hallelujah! :oD

And then, when I was still walking around starry-eyed from that revelation, He showed me another jaw-dropper: the only lesson we need to learn in this life is that we only need to turn to God, and experience Him. (There's another entire post in that statement, about what it means to experience Jesus Christ, and how it changes us. So just hold onto your love of good works--I'm not advocating a do-nothing Savior.) ;o)

God doesn't WANT you to be depressed. Or overwhelmed. Or shamed. Or sad. Or to feel trapped.

He is the God of light, life, peace and joy. Of everlasting love. And, most importantly, of grace. Nothing bad comes from God. Our God is made of Good. As I slowly mulled that all over, God taught me, over days and weeks, what grace truly is.

Christianity at large uses a phrase that we Mormons hardly ever touch: "the cross". The cross symbolizes His sacrifice, and His victory. It has become one of the most beautiful phrases to me, because it truly symbolizes the lowest point of His suffering and humiliation. And that, my friends, that is supernally beautiful because that is the point at which He finished His preparations for our salvation, and declared it done. Finished. It is the symbol of His Victory, the point after which any chance of His failure completely disappeared.

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, they were separated from God. Forever. Nothing they could do could overcome the barrier they themselves had created, could make them good enough to get back to God. But Jesus Christ overcame that barrier set up by justice, His victory gave Him the authority to come back and abide with us. He saved us from the fall not just in the hereafter, but the HERE. Telestial earth. Now. We just have to knock it off already with the martyr complexes and blind servitude, and open ourselves to Him and His beautiful, joyous, sweet friendship. His comfort. His succor. Victory gave Him power to forgive sin, to wash us clean. That's all He has ever wanted to do for us. To make us clean, washing us in the blood of His holy sacrifice. To walk with us, work with us, and show us who He needs us to be, so we can come back into His presence, and the presence of the Father.  Grace is what we call it when He does just that, extending His mercy to us, coming to be with us, wherever we are. And when He comes, we can have joy.

He won so we can be joyous! 

(And also: He won, so we can be joyous!) ;o)

Grace means that, no matter where you are, what you've done, or who you think you are, Jesus will come and find you when you call.  You don't have to muddle your way back to Him, you don't have to labor under negative feelings, depression, anxiety, any of it . . . never think that for a second. He will find you! He will hear your humble cry, and come to where you are. The only thing left for you to do is accept Him. That acceptance takes practice, and unlearning a whole slew of things Mormons all have committed to deep memory. It takes braving cognitive dissonance, and really and truly trusting God in His goodness to lead you to safety.

But take it from me: it's the richest, most beautiful return on investment I've ever received.