Navigating Through the Wilderness

I recently gave a presidency lesson in our Relief Society. I like giving presidency lessons because its a great opportunity to tap into the group as a whole and give them what I know they need- that’s the awesome power of the mantle; I don’t necessarily understand how it’s possible to know so much and feel so much, but it’s truly humbling.

This particular month had been a struggle for many. The climate of the gospel right now is exciting. Never before have there been so many resources and tools that are constructive aids in gaining and building a testimony. Conversation is living; people are talking and sharing and growing together as they consider their own personal faith and conviction. We’re reminded especially lately by prophets and apostles and other church leaders that being inquisitive about our faith is welcomed and encouraged; this religion is a active religion, one where nobody is expected to be spiritually on par with another. Regardless of this encouragement, I’ve seen the stigma that accompanies a spiritual struggle. It begins with the struggler themselves- and I’ve been there. No doubt I’ll find myself there again at some point or another. The fact is, the natural man in all of us hates to feel like they’re not measuring up in some way. Unfortunately, there are some in our gospel family that are mistaken in adding to the stigma and judging, or misunderstanding those who are spiritually questioning.

In studying for my lesson- which I took about a month to do- I started to see this struggle or “spiritual wilderness” in a different light. By the time I was ready to teach my class, I had grown to consider this “wilderness” with great reverence and respect. I saw it as a holy arena of learning that ought to be celebrated.

I taught my lesson with a handout I made which I followed (click “Navigating the Road). The following is a rough lesson plan.

Navigating the road

Introduction:

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Q: What can you tell me about the late Mother Teresa?

A: The women in my class spoke of how revered and holy she was, how she spent her days serving and inspiring others and making a real difference in the world.

Mother Teresa wrote to her ecclesiastical leader on one occasion: “There is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead… [The] emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul… Heaven from every side is closed.”

I asked the girls to close their eyes. Think of a time when you’ve felt something similar. Maybe you felt a similar darkness. Maybe you were met with silence when you called on Heavenly Father for help. Maybe you struggled with doctrinal questions, and searched in vain for answers from books or scripture. Maybe you struggled to feel any connection to God. Maybe you struggled to feel Gods love or the companionship of the spirit. Maybe you’re struggling right now. Maybe someone close to you is struggling.

What does that look like? What does that feel like? (or what do you imagine it feels like?)

I waited for a moment in the quiet and felt the room begin to still.  I was the only one with my eyes open, and I watched as shoulders slumped and many in the room wiped away tears. I knew in this moment that my spiritual prompting to study this topic and teach it was right; it was needed. I asked the women in my class to sum up that feeing in one word, and share the word with her neighbour. When I got their attention again, I continued, emotionally:

Brigham Young described that feeling as “trying to every fibre of the heart,” and the “most painful experience that man can ever suffer.”

These times are the most personal, oftentimes lonely experiences of our lives. I’ll bet that 99% of the words you shared with one another were discouraging or heavy words.

“All of us will, at some time or another, have to traverse our own spiritual wilderness and undertake our own rugged emotional journeys.” (L. Whitney Clayton)

I wish I could give a lesson on ‘how to successfully avoid the wilderness!’ But my research tells me it’s impossible. What I do think is possible, and it’s my hope, is that we can learn to see this wilderness with new eyes. I want us to see together the beauty in the wilderness. If you’re struggling personally, I want to share just a couple of the most talked-about aides from prophets and leaders and members alike. And if you’re here today thinking about someone you know is working through the wilderness right now, I want to suggest a few ways you can really help.

Part 1:

OK BUT WHY?

C. S. Lewis: “God allows spiritual peaks to subside into (often extensive) troughs in order for ‘servants to finally become Sons,’ ‘stand[ing] up on [their] own legs … growing into the sort of creature He wants [them] to be.’”

Brigham Young: “God’s intention was to make us as independent in our sphere, as he is in his. That is why the heavens close from time to time, to give us room for self direction.”

To some it is given to know… to others it is given to believe. (What does this mean?) (study three scriptures on the handout)

To Believe: Modern revelation… notes that while to some it is given to know the core truth of Christ and His mission, to others is given the means to persevere in the absence of certainty.

Many of us will live out our lives in doubt, like the unnamed father in the gospel of Mark. Coming to Jesus, distraught over the pain of his afflicted son… (Mark 9:24) “Straightway [he] cried out, and said with tears, Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Though he walked through mists of doubt, caught between belief and unbelief, he made a choice, and the consequence was the healing of his child.

To be willing to put in the work, to give everything you’ve got- even if that is just “a particle of faith”- or lesser still, just a desire (Alma 32:27).

Part 2: FOR YOU WHO ARE STRUGGLING IN THE WILDERNESS RIGHT NOW

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Choose to believe (meaning, choose to work hard, to question {we ask before it is given, we seek before we find, we knock before it is opened unto us} and to understand God’s order of teaching- line upon line)

“The highest of all is not to understand the highest but to act upon it,” wrote Kierkegaard. Miracles do not depend on flawless faith. They come to those who question as well as to those who know. There is profit to be found, and advantage to be gained, even- perhaps especially- in the absence of certainty.

Peter’s tentative steps across the water capture the rhythm familiar to most seekers. He walks in faith, he stumbles, he sinks, but is embraced by the Christ before the waves swallow him.

Hold fast to what you know (which means be responsible for what you know)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.

What you know is personal, the gospel is personal.

You have not taken a wrong turn:- the wilderness is en-route in this journey to god-hood!

Uchtdorf: “It is natural to have questions- the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith- even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty… We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner” –this is wrongly interpreting the journey!- “and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Part 3: THERE IS SOMEONE YOU KNOW WHO IS STRUGGLING RIGHT NOW

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Often supporting a “struggling” friend is unchartered territory just as the ‘wilderness’ may be. Often the only thing you can do is to remember where you stand. Remember what your stewardship is: to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Rarely will you have more stewardship than this. It is not your place to judge, to lecture.

Christ exemplifies this beautifully. Pharisees and Sadduces prompted him to make a judgment of a sinner brought to him[I am not equating a personal struggle of faith with sinning]. Ironically it will fall to him one day to judge the world. But in this instance in his mortal ministry, he chose instead to serve the woman taken inadultery.

“Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travellers in this journey through life.” – Thomas S. Monson

Maybe someone struggling chooses to present their questions to you cloaked in frustration or even anger. You may argue that their delivery takes away the spirit. I will risk saying that you would be wrong. May you choose to embrace these moments. May these moments serve as your cue to enfold these journeying souls in love, in patience and kindness. That is your stewardship, as covenant daughters of a loving Father in Heaven.

Conclusion

Archbishop Perier responded to Mother Teresa: “God guides you, dear mother; you are not so much in the dark as you think. The path to be followed may not always be clear at once. Pray for light; do not decide too quickly, listen to what others have to say, consider their reasons. You will find something to help you… Guided by faith, by prayer, and by reason with a right intention, you have enough.

Navigating the road

 

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