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.

On Discernment

(This is a response to the heuristics here in Rob's post. I posted it as a comment here, but wanted a record here, as well.)

Funny, I also had some responses to your heuristics, but I usually let longer comments age a bit before posting them.  I appreciate kpeetersn's comments, as they did such a great job of opening the conversation, and showing an alternate point of view. Your heuristics are marked with a dash. My comments begin with an asterisk.

(Full disclosure: I have a habit of carefully examining statements' inverse and converse, because Americans have a persistent and faulty habit of assuming if a statement is true, then the inverse and converse MUST be true. Hence the power of the media.)

-Is the direction comfortable, easy, or desirable? It is probably not from God.

*God has asked me to do a lot of things I'm comfortable with, that are easy for me, and that I desire with all my heart. Just not necessarily at times that I feel like doing them. ;o) And, the more I have listened to Him, the easier and more desirable the things He asks me to do become.

-Is the direction difficult, will it lead to embarrassment, pain, sacrifice, loss of time and money? Probably from God.

*I'd like to qualify this one by saying these are not requirements for direction from heaven. Promptings I've received have saved me from all of those things at various times, often to great extent. Our God is a GOOD Father. Yes, sometimes He asks hard things of us . . . but not always. And never does He put us through hard things that we didn't choose. If hard things come into our lives, it's because our choices brought them there, whether or not God invited us on that path.

-Does it make you feel overwhelmingly small and insignificant? Probably from God.

*Promptings can bring these, especially as someone first begins to listen carefully to God's whisperings . . . but it's not a requirement. By "overwhelmingly small and insignificant", were you trying to describe the incredibly intimate and saturated feeling of humility that comes when God speaks direction to us? One of the strangest and most beautiful things I've learned lately about humility is that it takes a tremendous amount of it from me to approach the throne of grace boldly and accept all God has to offer, DESPITE my perceived shortcomings, the fact that I didn't spend as much time in the scriptures as I know God wanted me to last week, the fact that I'm not as devoted in prayer as I might be, etc. He still wants to pour out onto me as much as I can possibly accept. It's up to me to not beat myself up, preventing myself from accepting all He's able to give me right now, this moment. And let me tell you--THAT takes letting go of that overwhelming feeling of insignificance, of stepping forward in true humility and obedience, and a tremendous amount of trust in God. And it's 180 degrees from what I thought (and was taught) God wanted my behavior toward Him to be, which was more of the sackcloth and ashes, beating myself up kind of attitude. But who wants us to beat ourselves up? Not God. Who wants us to stand, simply and without pretense, in His presence? Not only wants that, but will rejoice with us in it? Not the adversary.

-Does it make you feel like you are someone special, that you are unique or specially prepared? Probably not from God.

*I think you may have meant something more like "Does it make you feel better than everyone, or anyone, else?"

God has used me in ways I know He prepared me for (some of those times were foretold in my patriarchal blessing, others later illuminated by the Holy Ghost) . . . and when I realized that was what He was doing, I felt all of these, along with a sense of His excitement that His planning was coming to fruition. We are ALL His favorites--and thinking of it that way is just the tiniest beginning of understanding how unstinting and lavish His love is for us. He specially prepares ALL of us for the work He wants us to do. Always. Everything in our lives can be turned to His work, to His will.

-Does it feel rushed, exciting, or thrilling? Probably not from God.

*This one needs some qualifiers.  "Cast yourself from this mountaintop, so God can catch you," fits nicely as one from the adversary. "Learn French so you can speak into the lives of people I will bring to you" does, as well. The difference in the second example being that I received it from God recently, and it's absolutely exciting and thrilling, (there's nothing more in this life that I could ask for than to know I'll be able to be an instrument in God's hands, no matter how simple) and I feel rushed because I know from the impression that came with His word that I don't have much time to do it. He wants me to do it now, without delay.

Fifteen years ago I had a very simple, sweet experience where my Spanish saved a lovely sister in line ahead of me at McD's from difficulty and embarrassment when it came time for her to order. That morning God told me to study the Book of Mormon in Spanish, which of necessity kicked into gear the slightly dusty Spanish-thinking corners of my brain. I was thinking in Spanish when I stopped for food on my way to class, and answering her questions, spoken softly in broken English, comfortably in Spanish is still something that brings a shine to my eyes, because she was such a gentle woman . . . and I'm so glad I was able to spare her discomfort, and possibly derisive laughter, at the hands of the rather hurried and impatient teenage McD employees that day. Remembering that experience, and thinking of this new instruction, has me pretty excited. Even if all I do is help someone understand a menu or bus schedule on a busy day in a big city.

-Is the direction towards something that you know there is no way you could possibly do it? Probably from God.

*Again, sometimes, yes. But if it's something that you can do, even easily, that doesn't disqualify it as from heaven. (Again, that inverse thing.) ;o)

As far as discerning of spirits, I've found several ways that work really well for me. The first step was realizing that complete thoughts that come into my head aren't from my own mind. I personally have to speak or write in order for thoughts to fully form, generally speaking. I can concentrate and "speak" thoughts in my own mind, but it's a very conscious thing, like speaking or writing. It doesn't just happen on its own, or when I'm doing something else.

Once I realized that, it became easier and easier to recognize the voices of familiar spirits assigned to tempt me. (Familiar spirits aren't just hanging around mediums and mystics. They are the imps who follow us around--whose presence we are accustomed to.) It took them about a week or ten days to realize I'd caught on; then things became more subtle. I rarely hear temptations in words anymore. (Right now it's mostly just straight-out spiritual warfare with emotion as the enemy's heavy artillery.) But the differences are still there. And when I hear from the adversary, those voices are easily distinguishable from the Lord's, for several reasons:

1) Timbre/quality. Satan just can't mimic the rich, full-spectrum, complete spiritual "sound" of the Lord's voice.

2) Accompanying feelings. When the Lord speaks to me, a feeling of encompassing love and calm comes along. (If I don't feel it right away, it's just waiting for me to accept it. Satan hasn't ever been able to reproduce it.) Added to that is a level of communication with each word that just can't be put into words--feelings and attitudes, emotions and thoughts, often still images, sometimes short video-like visions, and sometimes just the impression of color, shape or movement. This differs just as a single-tone melody midi file does from a live orchestra under the command of a seasoned and well-loved director.

3) Physical sensation. Promptings from God come with a feeling of balance and harmony throughout my body that begins at the crown of my head and quickly fills me. Temptations (which can be anything from the archetypical "you really DO want to see what that wine tastes like" to "She thinks I'm a lousy mom" or "I've lost every last bit of credibility with my leadership") come with little or no change in my physical state.

4) Direction. When temptations come, they originate from behind, above, and slightly to the right of my head. Communications from God originate in the very center of my mind, like the perfect flowering of the physical sensation I mentioned above as it moves through me.

I don't know if everyone feels these things. It's possible they happen to everyone, but not everyone discerns them. My mom told me when I was a child that I was a hypochondriac, had zero pain tolerance, and worried too much about how I was feeling. (As it has turned out, thanks to diagnoses in adulthood, I wasn't. There really were things wrong with me, but I didn't know how to express them with my child's vocabulary.) That said, all of that self-directed attention means that when there's even the tiniest shift, I recognize it.  So, there you go. :o)

Eyes to See

Scripture: Revelation 19:19-20

"Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army.  And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur."

I wonder what this will actually seem like, to those in its throes. The one sitting on the horse will be readily recognizable to those with eyes to see, as will the beast and false prophet. But it seems that they will, to those who aren't seeing with spiritual eyes, look as though their roles were reversed.

Lately, and yesterday especially, I have been presented with ideas and topics upon which salvation could, (and really should), hang. Over and over, the pattern of dichotomy establishes itself: "This way to God!", pitted against "Watch out, you'll end up in hell that way!" Of course, the arguments are far more subtle than that, obfuscatory synecdoches scattered throughout. And I find myself pondering on and untangling the meaning of various the ones presented to me, wondering which side I'll choose, which points and ideas are actually on the upward route.

Father, I thank You for all You have provided for Your children's education and guidance. For scripture, for Your Son, and Your Spirit. I'm so glad I know to trust in You, to follow Your Word in the Spirit, and for Your patience and forgiveness as I fumble around. Please, give me eyes to see truth from error.  Show me clearly what I need to see to do Your work in a way pleasing to You, and lead me always in Your ways. I'm so glad for You, and for Jesus, and for the Holy Spirit, for the love that is the primary channel of communication from You, for Your followers who bring that love to me like a flood, and for the paths in which it has led me. Bring light to Your people, God, light and life and love eternal, and to those who seek to be Yours. In Jesus' name, amen.


What do I truly seek?

So Jesus told them, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.” (John 7:16-19 NLT)

"Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.” 

“Our father is Abraham!” they declared. 

“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.” 

They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.” 

Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me." 

"Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me!" (John 8:37-43 NLT)

*************************

Who is my Father?

To whom do I turn?

To whom do I look?

From whom do I receive strength?

Direction?

Hope?

Confidence?

What are the fruits of my thoughts?

Of my words?

Of my choices?

My life?

Who finds them acceptable and pleasing?

Who do I declare?

Whose work do I do?

Do I feel a constant connection with loving, gracious, forgiving Jesus?

Do my prayers feel like conversations, or monologues to a silent room?

Does that connection flow out to those around me?

Do the names of men more often come from my mouth than the name of Jesus?

Whose words most often come to my mind, and into my conversation?

Whom do I quote most often: God or men?

Whom do I praise most often: Jesus, or men?

Whom do I thank most often?


Returning from speaking with Aslan: “Emeth came walking forward into the open strip of grass between the bonfire and the Stable. His eyes were shining, his face was solemn, his hand was on his sword-hilt, and he carried his head high. Jill felt like crying when she looked at his face. And Jewel whispered in the King's ear, "By the Lion's Mane, I almost love this young warrior, Calormene though he be. He is worthy of a better god than Tash.” 

Then Emeth said: "'Beloved', said the Glorious One, 'unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.' And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog.”  (The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis)

Live His Law

Scripture: Luke 14:1-6

One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely. There was a man there whose arms and legs were swollen. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in religious law, “Is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day, or not?” When they refused to answer, Jesus touched the sick man and healed him and sent him away.  Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son  or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” Again they could not answer.

Observation: This feels like apologetics to me. Pointing out the inconsistencies, the places where men have put their own spin on commandments, on scripture, for their own convenience or gain.

Application: Jesus didn't bow to every rule and regulation laid down by the Pharisees. He lived the law He had given. That's what I feel our responsibility is, as Christians. We must know the scriptures--not just through scholarship and logic, but taught directly from heaven through spiritual means--and we must live them, teach them, be them for all to read.

Prayer: Father, show me the difference. Teach me what I need to know, in ways I clearly and easily recognize are from You. Lead me by Your Spirit, and show me how to teach my children to love You, to know You well.  In Jesus' name, amen.