Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How Can I Feel God's Power in my Life?

One of my religious leaders, an apostle, Elder Richard G. Scott, recently said that the most important thing people can be learning right now is "to recognize the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in their lives."  He then taught about "personal strength we can receive through the Atonement of Jesus Christ."  Well, I need more personal strength.  Don't we all?  So, wanting to be able to actually recognize God's power in my daily, boring, routine life, and follow Elder Scott's counsel, I decided to study this out a bit. 

First, let's establish a working definition, and then I'll tell you what happened to me.

See here for more explanation of the Atonement
The Atonement

What is the "Atonement"?  THE Atonement is what we call Jesus' act of indescribable suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and also dying on the cross, for us.  It was the most important event in human history because He overcame death, gifting all people with resurrection.  So, Gift No.1...immortality.

The Atonement ALSO enabled everyone willing to follow Him to repent of sins (because He suffered the penalty FOR them) rendering those repentant persons pure and clean again.  Pure and clean means that we are once again worthy to be in God's presence--able to return to our Heavenly Father.  Gift No.2?  Eternal life WITH God.  (Notice the difference from mere "immortality".)  

I find Jesus' own words the best explanation.  He said,

"For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;  But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;  Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--Nevertheless, glory be to the father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."  (D&C 19:16-19)
There is a third (albeit connected) gift that is provided through the Atonement, and I think it's one that we don't internalize very often.  Jesus suffered for the imperfectness and corruptness of mortality itself.  Pain.  Sorrow.  Confusion.  Injustice.  Unhappiness.  Weariness.  EVERYTHING BAD.

11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
 12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
 13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance;" (Alma 7:11-13, italics added.)
So, this scripture explains a huge, huge blessing.  Jesus suffered EVERYTHING.  Why?  It says that the Spirit knoweth all things; he could have just had some kind of intangible spiritual understanding about how bad it feels to stub your toe, or how difficult it is to overcome an addiction to pornography...BUT he suffered those things "nevertheless",  so "that he may know according to the flesh how to succor [help] his people".  Because of the Atonement, Jesus really knows how to help us with our problems.  Gift number 3...Grace.  Enabling power.  Mercy.  Strength.  Any of these words would describe Jesus' tender, personalized mercies to us.  And I would think that this aspect of the Atonement is the most direct way that we can feel His power in our lives, now.  Today.
 "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Okay, back to my question, How can I see Jesus' power in my daily life?  How can I "come boldly to the throne of grace" or receive even more grace, for that matter? 


One clue about how to actually apply all this understanding about the Atonement came from studying Elder Scott's talk again.  He mentioned, "The Lord sees weaknesses differently than He does rebellion" and "when the Lord speaks of weaknesses, it is always with mercy."  He backed those statements up with this scripture.
"Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things." (Jacob 4:7, italics added.)
"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.  I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27, italics added.)
In other words, Jesus has allowed us some big, glaring, neon lights to use when we are unsure about Him or how we mortals could possibly connect with Him.  Our weaknesses.  Can't think of the last time God intervened in your life?  That's fine.  But can you think of the last time you knew you had a problem?  Easy peasy, right?  Why not take that problem, that weakness, that sin, and USE it as a spark?  And the cool thing is, if we aren't really sure which weaknesses we might be harboring, or what problems are really causing us grief, God will EVEN help us figure THAT part out, if we ask Him.  "I will show unto them their weakness", he says.  Okay then.

NOTE:  As I was writing this I was reminded that the process of turning weakness into strength is really beautifully and practically taught and expanded on, specifically for overcoming addiction, through LDS Family Services' Addiction Recovery ProgramFree booklet and programs available.

So, it seems that there is a simple pattern to feel God's power in our life, if we are truly willing to try it.
1.  Identify a weakness, (and God can help with this).
2.  Humble yourselves, realizing that only God can get you out of this fix.  Repent
3.  Pray for help.
4.  Follow the guidance of the Spirit (who will give you ideas and guidance on what to do).
5.  Act on those ideas in faith (in faith means, expecting that God will help you even if it's hard).
6.  Watch and see the tender, personal mercies unfold!

Was I willing to try this?

The Grand Experiment

This may come as a surprise, but God wants us to be logical thinkers.  He WANTS us to "experiment upon my words". Try the gospel out and see what comes of it!  "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thess. 5:21)  He won't let you down if you are really sincerely trying, not just "testing" God.  Why would we do this?  To learn.  To gain a testimony that God is really there.  To be able to fall back on that knowledge when times get tough and we are allowed to struggle a little.  To be able to help others with their faith and actually be able to explain why you believe, in detail.

So I decided to try this spiritual experiment.  I wanted to use the Atonement in my daily life, and really know that God was making a difference for me.

Step one, identifying a weakness.  Hmm.  This proved more difficult than I thought because it was the start of a new year, and there were several things I wanted to accomplish.  But something I wanted to improve about myself?  Something that wasn't just a simple fix of making a different choice, like, eat more vegetables?  Read this book?  My life felt pretty happy and peaceful, and I wasn't really feeling the weight of mortality on my shoulders.  Finally I decided that I needed some help with not speaking sarcastically to my children.  It was becoming a bad habit.  Weakness chosen.  Check.

The next day, although I was pleased that I had done a pretty good job of communicating kindly (I put a gold star on my calendar), I was feeling a little unsettled and dissatisfied.  This was too easy.  I felt like I was accomplishing the task just by deciding to do so.  Not that I doubt that the Spirit was giving me little reminders to bite my tongue when I needed to, but, to put it bluntly, this experiment was nothing to write home about.  Why was I still feeling so strongly that I needed to use God's help, and then recognize it as such?  Cutting the sarcasm wasn't really feeling like the right venue for my experiment (although, of course, I'm still working on it.)  But if not that, then what?

Be careful what you ask for!  A few more days passed and I was feeling less and less enthusiastic about my spiritual experimenting, and more and more concerned about my baby.  He had been having health problems for nearly three months, and the doctor put me on "wait and see" mode, monitoring a few things to see if there was any improvement.  Well, there wasn't.  My brain was constantly racked trying to think of what I could do differently, what might be wrong, and how NOT FUN it is to be worrying about your children--  children that you are supposed to be enjoying!  This child in particular, who was born with a major heart defect (hypoplastic right heart) had already been through two major surgeries, both successful.  Now this new problem was keeping a big grey cloud in my sky.  So few sunshiny days with this one!

I've heard that hope starts with desire.  What did I really, truly, desire from the bottom of my heart?  To enjoy my baby!  To not be mangled up in knots of worry every time I picked him up.  How could I stop worrying, ease my anxiety, and just deal with life?  I obviously was not figuring it out on my own power, and I've had tons of practice.  (This is my fifth child.  You'd think I could be a little more laid back.)  Then I realized that the Lord had basically dumped that spiritual learning experience I wanted so badly into my lap.

Step one--Weaknesses:  Anxiety.  Sick baby.  Lack of joyful moments, mostly caused by weakness one and two.

Step two--Humble myself.  Realize that only God can get me out of this fix.  I'm tearing up as I write this because when you hit the bottom, you know it.  And if you are a parent, you know that there are many, many times when you purely don't know what on earth to do, but you are desperate to find out.  As a child, I used to marvel at the story of Enos who prayed all day and all night.  As a parent, I don't even bat an eye at that idea.  I also was feeling wretched for worrying so much about this child who God had already saved twice.  Where was my gratitude?  Where was my faith?  Do I have a short memory, or what?  Prayer proved to be a great way to talk this out with the Lord, repent, and allow him to "help thou mine unbelief".  Studying the scriptures for help also proved to be a daily lifeline, and I found myself wanting to spend more time reading and pondering how I could use what I was learning. (Nephi's psalm seemed particularly personal and related to my situation at this stage.  The Book of Mormon really is a book of answers.)

Step three--Pray for help.  Of course I had already been doing this.  As in, "PLEASE help this baby get better."  Well, the doctor said that this problem might take awhile to improve.  In light of trying this experiment, I decided to add to my prayer, a "but if not, PLEASE help me not to be so miserable with worry all the time, and just be able to enjoy him."  Then I would take a deep breath, face my day, and truly expect that some help would come to my emotions in the form of His Grace.

Step four--Act on the guidance of the Spirit, who will give you ideas about what to do.  I tried to pay attention to any ideas that seemed to be hovering in my mind.  One day I feel that I was led to research a topic that led to better understanding of a possible cause of the problem.  This did ease my mind.  Some.  It particularly seemed to make sense to my husband.  (But he wasn't the one suffering undue anxiety.)

Another morning proved more dramatic.  Baby woke up early with a major setback.  I was heartbroken because I felt like we had been making some progress.  I was just so sad about it, so it occurred to me to ask my husband to give me a priesthood blessing.  I was a little shy about asking for one, after all, the baby had already received one, and he was the one who was sick, but I kept having this feeling that I should just ask, so I did.  Sometimes after he gives a blessing, my husband likes to share some of the impressions that he was having during the blessing in more detail.  On this morning he gave me a beautiful blessing, then sat down on the bed with a bit of a puzzled look on his face and told me that he had the feeling that I was going to receive some unconventional advice from someone, but I needed to try it.

Step five--Act in faith.  The next day the baby was not better.  I was feeling somewhat more in control, having a few ideas of what to try next.  I had talked to my sister the nurse and she had given me a suggestion that didn't really work, but I felt like at least I was trying and a little less stressed.  That night we went to a large party.  I was sitting by another mother who had even more children than me.  The thought crossed my mind that she might have a suggestion for me, but I didn't feel it was appropriate to be discussing health problems at the party.  However, as everyone was leaving, she asked after my baby's health and I spilled the whole story.  With a kind, concerned face, she told me she had just the thing.  It was a simple holistic treatment, and I agreed to try it.  After the first day I didn't notice a difference, and I was a little disappointed, but my confidence seemed to be replacing my stress level anyway.  The second day, the baby was much better.  He has continued to improve.  My worries and concerns are nearly wiped away.  I can breathe again.

And actually, I am quite surprised.
Step six--watch the power and mercies of God unfold.  I really, really thought that through this process of trying to access God's power and help when I was such a worried wreck would result in me having a simple, peaceful feeling envelop my worries.  You know, a confidence that everything would be okay, even though it wasn't at the moment.  I know that God's power can change my heart and lift my spirits because He has done that for me several times before.  This time, though, for whatever reason, He chose the "showier" kindness of removing the problem altogether!  I am so blessed!

The result of my Grand Experiment makes me wonder, why did God solve my problem in this way?  I can only think that He is encouraging me to rely on Him more often, and to turn to Him even more.  I'm nobody special, but I was willing to try.  Are you?

How do you feel God's power in your life?