After a strange chain of events, I found myself re-reading the Young Woman’s Personal Progress book. After pouring through the contents, I had this strange thought that I should complete the program again. I kind of laughed at the idea. I had completed it once upon a time over ten years ago, but to do it now, now that I was much older, a wife, a mother, it seemed a little weird. It struck me as one of those things that people around my age do to remind themselves that they are not old, to reminisce their youth, to rekindle who they once were. But this seemed to go beyond that.
One of the things that made it more alluring than having a whipped cream war in a park at night or delivering cans of spam to people’s porches on a whim (yes, I’ve done both and they’re both fun), I could blog about my experience. I also saw the new additional charm that was available to those who do more than is required and I wanted to get that Honey Bee (yes, I know I can just buy it at Deseret Book, that’s the plan after I earn it). I felt like this was just a thing to do to fill time and earn a golden bee that I probably would wear as often as my medallion I earned over ten years ago. I just started on Monday, and not even a week in, it has become so much more than earning a piece of jewelry, my testimony and understanding of Heavenly Father has changed by three value experiences.
When I turned twelve years old, I had just started sixth grade, and the most miserable time of my life in my short time on this mortal plane. I had no friends, I was failing school, I was fighting with my parents. Church was worse. I hated church more than I hated school. I had just graduated from Primary and moved on to the Young Woman program. As a Beehive I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t interested in hair, make up, or boys. I liked answering questions about what we were learning and I liked reading and watching cartoons. The other Beehives were not very nice to me. I often felt ganged up on. In today’s world it would have been proclaimed as bullying, but to me, it was learning how to deal with conflict.
One lesson was about our pre-mortal life. I don’t remember much about that lesson, but I do remember the idea of a past existence with our Father in Heaven resonated with me. I often felt that I was a mistake on the earth, not meant to be and that is why I never fit in or had any friends. If I was a mistake, how could I have existed before this life? I asked a lot of questions about pre-mortality and everyone told me that the answers I wanted no one had because of the veil. I was devastated. Someone suggested praying for my answers.
The night I prayed about it, I know I had had a hard day. I was beginning to doubt my worth even more. I was scared of who I really was, a mistake. I prayed to my Father in Heaven. It was my first prayer that wasn’t the repetitive mantra that I usually said. My prayer was answered in the most beautiful and personal way possible. After that moment, I knew that I was a daughter of Heavenly Father. I knew that Jesus was not just my savior, but my older brother and that I had had a strong and close relationship with Him in that life. I also learned that I was very close with Satan.
The answer was so profound that I have never forgotten it. I have had many hardships, much worse than sixth grade, and have recalled who I am and where I came from and somehow found peace. As I have gotten older, the knowledge of this has been nice, but it doesn’t always wash away the hard, the bad, the horrible. I have come to realize it takes more than one answer to a prayer so many years ago. That is the foundation, but we need to build on it. We need to keep growing that faith and press forward. We must remember that “…Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 KJV). Without faith, we cannot possibly grow spiritually. Without faith, blessings cannot be recognized.
What is faith and how do we utilize it? “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air. Faith does not fall upon us by chance or stay with us by birthright…Faith emits a spiritual light, and that light is discernible. Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from heaven that comes as we choose to believe and as we seek it and hold on to it.” (Elder Neil L. Andersen October 2015) “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV) “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not see, which are true” (Alma 32:27). You may think, yeah, I already know all this. It is true, I felt like I knew all of this too, but there is much more to faith than just choosing to have hope.
I have the huge blessing of attending institute for adults every Wednesday at the stake center. Currently we’re studying the New Testament. This past week we were discussing Matthew 8-10, the miracles that Jesus performed. I have read these verses and heard these stories so many times, I felt like “Yup, their sick, they go to Jesus, have faith and Ta-Da! Healed.” But this time, it was different. Sister Carey taught us that we need to look at each illness that Jesus healed and compare it to a spiritual illness that can be healed through the atonement.
This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Besides the amazing “Oh, so leprosy is symbolic for sin and how to go through the repentance process” moment I had, I also realized that the people were living the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was based on the physical things. Everything they did was very tangible. Their focus was on the physical world around them. Our world is less physical and more thoughtful. We focus a lot on thinking and deep thoughts. It makes sense that much of our religion is based on making a mental and spiritual connection rather than participating in physical rituals.
What does that have to do with faith? Well, everything. We have to have faith to move past the physical and look towards the spiritual connection. We might not have these huge miraculous physical healings, but many will tell you stories of how they were “saved” spiritually from addictions, terrible choices, and just poor spirits. It all happens because of our faith.
Sister Carey challenged us to look for the miracles that have happened in our lives. I found myself trying to think of my miracles and coming up short. I felt appalled at myself. I knew the Lord had blessed my family beyond what it deserved, but were those blessings miracles? That made me realize my faith needed to be stronger so that I could see the miracles.
Trials we are given always have some greater purpose, even if that purpose is just to build our faith. My has been experiencing higher volume of trails than usual this past while. I just wrote it off to life, but trusted that everything would work out. I found myself saying “It’s OK, it will all work out, it always does” and felt like I was being super faithful. But it wasn’t enough.
Remember at the beginning when I talked about the answer to my prayer back in sixth grade, yeah, I do too. Well there is a significant thing that I didn’t discuss. I had a close relationship with Satan in the pre-mortal life. We were buddies; however, I didn’t go along with his rebellion. I chose to stand against him (it’s why I am where I am). I never realized the magnitude of this information until the other night when I was crying in my room praying to Heavenly Father for peace. Satan knows me really well. He knows me so well he knows my insecurities, my hopes, my dreams, my greatest fears, as well as my greatest triumphs. He has so much information on me he makes the NSA and CIA look clueless. Not only does he have oodles of info, but he is the ultimate in grudge holding. If holding a grudge was an Olympic sport, he would have gold every single time. This is a lethal combination, well to me and anyone else he’s got oodles of information on. He knows just what to do to make me crumble and suffer, and as a grudge holder, he wants me to be miserable.
I just shuddered at that. Ugh.
Anyway, his tactics and plans are also part of life and part of the whole faith process. I love that scriptures provide endless amazing examples of faith and strength, but I’m going to go with the best example: the Savior. The Savior never once shrank away from a trial, hardship, or Satan. He didn’t even shrink away when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane taking on all the pains and sufferings of the universe. He is really is the ultimate hero and example.
Elder Maxwell went through horrible chemotherapy. It was awful. But despite the horribleness of it, he didn’t want to shrink away from it. He told Elder Bednar “I have learned that not shrinking is more important than surviving.” How amazing is that? I have had so many experiences thinking “will I survive?” But who cares if we survive or not? If we don’t survive, it’s OK, we get to go to the next life and not deal with these things. What is way more crucial that surviving is not shrinking away from the trial or awfulness? The fact of life is: no one ever makes it out alive, no one survives. If we face our hardships and trials full on, it takes more than just pure courage, it takes pure faith. It takes trust in Heavenly Father’s plan and omnipotent guidance.
We can have miracles and if it’s so important survive. I love the scriptures, but we never get more than the action that occurred. The events miss the deeper things. The leper that was healed, did he just have faith that Jesus would heal him? Did he have a contingency plan if Jesus told him that he was not supposed to be healed? Faith his more than just “Please bless that the Broncos will win the Super Bowl”. Faith is bending your will to His will.
There’s a story of a newlywed couple who was married three weeks when the husband was diagnosed with cancer. He had the amazing opportunity to get a blessing from an apostle, Elder Bednar. Before the blessing, Elder Bednar asked him if he had the faith to not be healed. Did this young man and his wife trust in Heavenly Father’s plan enough that they would accept His will over their own desires? Their answer was yes. It took a while, but he was eventually overcame his cancer.
When the apostles were out on the boat with Jesus, a terrible storm came up. The apostles were terrified. It was a completely legitament thing. They probably knew people that had died on those very waters. They had seen what could happen to people in storms. Their fear was founded. When they woke up Christ to ask why He wasn’t helping them, He used it as a teaching moment. “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea; there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26 KJV). He’s basically telling them, “trust in the plan, trust in me.” But he doesn’t stop there: he answers their pleas and calms the storm. It is a miracle. Heavenly Father knows our struggles and problems. He wants us to be happy and He does calm our storms, but only if it is part of the plan. Heavenly Father wants us to use faith not fear. It isn’t easy. I have had my share of sobbing on my knees telling Heavenly Father that I am having a hard time believing in the plan because I just can’t see it. Or maybe I want to trust in the plan, but I can’t get passed the latest tactic Satan is using against me. Heavenly Father knows, understands, and wants us to grow and not shrink from our trials, but face them head on because that is what matters. Our faith is what matters.