Never alone

I have spent almost all of my life feeling cut off from my Heavenly Family.  Despite my months and years of pleading, I have yet to feel any type of connection.  My failure to feel some indication that Someone is listening to my prayers has led to my belief that I’ve been abandoned by God, that I’m supposed to go through this earth life all alone, that life is a test and Them giving me any indication that They're there would be cheating.

It's hard for me to believe that I can have any type of relationship with Them when I don't feel anything coming from Them.  Logically, I know I had a relationship with Jesus and my Heavenly Parents in the premortal life, that most likely we were very close. My brain knows it, but my heart doesn't.

In an attempt to get my heart in line with my brain, I've started to imagine and write down what my interactions could have been like with my Heavenly Family, usually but not always in the premortal life.  My goal is to get my heart to feel so I can believe.

When my family went through a horrific trial, I prayed for comfort and to feel peace and felt nothing. I felt abandoned and alone. I wondered where God was during this difficult time in my life. Recently I felt like exploring what Jesus had actually been doing during those days I had been begging for comfort. This is what I came up with.

Jesus and I were walking side by side on a path that wound through a lush green park.

“Where were You after <horrific event>?” I asked Him, staring at the ground.  “I felt like You’d abandoned our family.”

“Abandon you? Never!” He responded.

He stopped walking, put His hands on my shoulders and forced me to look at Him.  “I have never abandoned you.  You just couldn’t tell I was there.”

“Were you there at the temple the day after <horrific event>?” I asked, pulling away and starting to walk down the path again.

“Of course,” He said, falling into step with me.  “I sat next to you as you waited for your turn to do initiatories.  You were crying.  You felt like your heart was breaking.  You were embarrassed about crying so much.  I wanted to hug you and console you but you couldn’t perceive it.

“When it was your turn, you cried through the entire ordinance.  I followed you from booth to booth.  I couldn’t leave you alone through this.  You just couldn’t tell I was there.

“After your second name was finished, you left and asked the woman at the desk if you could go to the celestial room.  I walked next to you up the stairs and into the celestial room.  You sat under the big stained glass window on the couch.  I sat next to you.  I put my arm around you but you couldn’t sense it.  You cried and cried and wondered why your family was having to go through this.  You felt abandoned.  But you weren’t.  I cried with you the whole time on that couch in the celestial room.  I wanted to comfort you but you couldn’t feel it.  I wanted you to know I was there but you couldn’t sense it.

“You kept thinking that We had abandoned you.  That was the furthest thing from the truth.  I was there with you, crying with you.  I felt every feeling you felt.  I know you thought I’d abandoned you.”

He stopped walking and paused for a second.

“It hurt to know that you didn’t trust that I would always be there with you.”

His eyes were teary as He spoke those words.  That made me feel awful.  I looked away, my own eyes starting to water.

“I could never abandon you, <my name here>,” He told me.  “Not for a single second.

“I tried to talk to you, to tell you everything would be okay, to tell you I was with you, but you couldn’t hear it. You weren’t spiritually sensitive enough to pick up on any of that.”

Shame and guilt welled up in me.  I stared at the ground.

“But now you are,” He told me.  He lifted my chin to make me look at Him.  “And even when you can’t feel Me near, I’m always there.”

The shame and guilt were swept away and replaced by love and gratitude.  All I could do was throw my arms around Him and sob into His chest.

“I’m sorry I didn’t trust You.”

He hugged me back and whispered, “You do now, and that’s all that matters to Me.”

Writing it was really cathartic.  It seems hard to believe, but I actually don’t feel alone when I think about that experience anymore. I’m starting to believe that I hadn’t been abandoned at that point in my life; I just wasn’t spiritually sensitive enough to feel any heavenly help.

I don’t believe any of my stories are real or that I’m picking up on things from the other side of the veil.  But they’re helpful to me because they help me feel and believe I had a connection with Them, and that I can have a connection with Them again in the (hopefully not-too-distant) future.

True Confessions: Core Beliefs

Something I learned about recently is core beliefs.  These are beliefs that shape the way you see yourself, others and the world.  They usually develop from childhood on.  Your brain tends to ignore information that contradicts the belief and focus on information that supports the belief, which makes this belief seem completely true to you.  However, unless you've taken the time to discover your core beliefs, you probably don't know what they are.

The good/positive core beliefs you have aren't the problem.  You want to find the negative ones that are holding you down.  You can learn what your core beliefs are by listing a number of situations from your life that provoked a strong emotional reaction in you.  Then ask questions like
  • "Why?"
  • "What does that say about me/others/the world/my life?"
  • "Why is that bad?"
  • "Why am I upset about this situation?"
  • "Why do I think that?"
until you come to a statement that is an absolute.

I did this exercise with as many recent experiences I could think of and was pretty horrified with the results. Here were the three absolute statements that came up the most.

God won’t comfort me.
    Why? Because I’ve asked for comfort and haven’t received it.
    Why is that bad? Because it shows He doesn’t care about me.
    What does that say about Him? God doesn’t love me.

There’s no point asking God questions because I won’t get answers.
    Why? Because I’ve asked questions and haven’t gotten a response.
    What does that say about me? I’m spiritually deficient.

I can't recognize the Spirit or promptings.
    Why is that bad? Because my salvation depends on it.
    What does that say about me? My spiritual progression is stuck.
    What does that say about me?  I’m damned.

I'm kind of incredulous that I got this far spiritually with beliefs like that obscuring my perspective.

The thing is, I know that at least two of these are false.  I've felt God's love for me before, so why do I still not believe He does?  I am continuing to progress spiritually; so why on earth do I think I'm damned?  (Spiritually deficient - well, we'll see about that one.  That's a bit harder to disprove.)  This seems to be another "mind knows it but heart doesn't" situation.

The next step is to replace those core beliefs with new ones.  Not exactly an easy exercise.  My new ones are:

God loves me.

I am spiritual enough. (Yeah, that's kind of lame, but I couldn't think of a better antonym for deficient.)

I am making spiritual progress.

Now my task is to change these beliefs.  So far I have three ideas on how to do this.
  1. Over the next few months, write down all of the evidence I can think of from my life that supports these new core beliefs.
  2. Every time I get upset about something or have a negative thought, analyze what core belief is behind it, and state forcefully an opposite positive belief.
  3. Use an affirmation app1 to remind myself over the course of the day what my new core beliefs are.
I'm sure I will be hitting up Google for more ideas in the future, but I figure that's a good start.

1As usual, no kickbacks.

An anniversary

Last year during the April General Conference weekend, I finally got fed up with my level of spirituality and decided there had to be a higher plane out there somewhere.  I wasn't experiencing the kinds of things I felt like I should be experiencing, or feeling the feelings I felt like I should have.

It has been one crazy year.

I would say the biggest difference between me then and me now is the amount of knowledge I've gained.  I've learned truths I never would have believed last April.  I really feel like last April I was spiritually starving.  I was going to church but not being spiritually filled.  I didn't know I had to look beyond what was taught at church into the deeper truths of the gospel in order to feel satiated.  I had outgrown the milk and needed to seek out the meat on my own.

1 Cor. 3:2 says, "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able."   The Greek word translated "with meat" is defined as "food (literally or figuratively) especially (ceremonial) articles allowed or forbidden by the Jewish law" (see here).  You don't want to stay a spiritual baby forever.  You need to move on to the higher doctrines, the deeper spiritual truths.  That higher level of spiritual nourishment isn't something you'll find at church.  You have to seek it out yourself.

It's not without a cost though.  Eccl. 1:18 says, "For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."  (I kind of like the CEV version better: "The more you know, the more you hurt; the more you understand, the more you suffer.")  I've increased in knowledge the last year, but I've also increased in sorrow.  I'm a little more jaded than I was before.  But it's still better, in my opinion, to know truth, despite the cost, rather than stay in ignorance.

I've become a little bit better of a person in the last year.  I used to tell white lies to preserve my image and I tell them far less frequently now.  I also try to be as honest as possible.  I might be a little more patient.  I am more positive than I used to be.  I am a little more service-oriented.  I could be better, but I've improved.  I don't turn away beggars anymore (after reading this).  I found a cause I'm passionate about and do volunteer work related to that cause, which has been one of the best things in my life.

But I still feel stuck on the same spiritual plane as I was a year ago.  I still struggle to recognize promptings.  My prayers are still monologues, despite all the effort I've put into improving them.  I still don't recognize yes/no answers to questions asked in prayer.  Those are the areas I wanted the most to improve in, but it didn't happen.  So it's a bit of a bittersweet anniversary for me.