Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Do I Serve God?


Have you ever felt despair? I’m not talking about depression or sadness, but real despair. The kind that makes you seriously consider if life is worth continuing.  I can only think of three times in my life I have felt real despair. Once was as a very young teenager. I went to an authority figure pleading for help and protection from physical danger, but no help came. The other two times were as an adult. As a  young person I kept going because I was an optimist. I used to be the kind of person who was genuinely surprised that publishers clearinghouse didn’t show up to award me a million dollars, even though I hadn’t even entered. So, plugging along with the hope that things would change was natural to me. I was sure given a few years my life circumstances would change and things would get easier. After all, I could move away for college. As an adult all I had to do was think of my children. That is reason enough to keep going.  However, none of those reasons stop the feelings of despair. Though someone can have a reason to keep going, they need an even better reason to keep going with quality.  Do you just survive or do you live? How do you keep going when  you can’t muster up hope?

There was once an Old Testament Prophet, who was feeling some despair himself. Well…there were several of them actually…but I’m only going to talk about one: Habakkuk. 

Habakkuk lived in Israel during a time of great unrighteousness. Everywhere he turned he saw corruption and immorality. As a matter of fact, the first line of  his book is, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.” Often that is what despair feels like, a huge burden that weighs you down and aches even down to your joints and sinews.  Listen to some of the pain in his voice,

“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!

even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!

Why does thou shew me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance?

……the wicked doth compass about the righteous.”

Have you ever felt that way? I have, and currently still do. Joseph Smith did too. In liberty jail he cried out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth Thy hiding place?” It is very hard to feel alone. It is worse to wonder if even God, the one being who can be trusted, has abandoned you too. That would say horrible things about your worth if even the almighty, all loving God no longer cared about you.

The Lord heard Habakkuk’s plea and answered him. But, as God so often does He answered in a way Habakkuk never would have imagined in even his worst nightmare.

God replied, “I will work a work in your days,

which ye will not believe, though it be told you.

For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation,

which shall march through the breadth of the land,

to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.”

Heavenly Father told Habakkuk He is not as unaware and uninvolved as He was being accused. Already He had the Chaldeans ready to swoop in for judgment. Now think about that. The Chaldeans (we know them as the Babylonians) were a horrible nation. Their king, Neduchadnezzar, had no regard for human life. Even God described them as “terrible and dreadful” (vs. 7). I’ve taught the book of Daniel a few times and the background information I’ve learned about the despicable Nebuchadnezzar is enough to make you sick. You can imagine how Habakkuk felt about that news. Really, Heavenly Father, Nebuchadnezzar? That is who you’ve chosen for the judgment of the unrighteous? He’s worse than the whole lot in Israel. That hardly seems fair. God, you must realize that he will not distinguish between the righteous and unrighteous. The entire nation will be destroyed.

He expressed his concern to God, and I’ll be honest with you I love the way Habakkuk thinks.

“Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die.

O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and , O Mighty god,

Thou hast established them for correction.

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity;

wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and beholdest

Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?

…..I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower,

and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.”

To sum it up, he said, how can you, a Holy, pure God use horribly wicked people, to judge less wicked people? It seems evil to turn your people over to the Babylonians, even though they’ve sinned. Yet, Habakkuk knew that a holy god must have a holy reason. That is why his last sentence said, I will sit back and listen to how you reprove me.

God gently admonishes Habakkuk throughout chapter 2, telling him to have patience. He reminds Habakkuk that the just shall live by faith. Habakkuk must trust God. He must believe that God is righteous and doeth everything in righteousness. God also told him of the dreadfulness of sin.  The final chapter of Habakkuk is his prayer. He asked God that in His wrath would He also remember mercy. Then He rehearses the acts and character of God, and comes to a conclusion as to how he, Habakkuk, will live the rest of his life.  His conclusion, which I’ll explain in a moment, is the best answer for all of us, who like the prophets of old, occasionally must live in the midst of despair.

Many of you have read my conversion story. You remember it cost me greatly to become a Mormon. What you don’t know is that  my second year as a Mormon caused me almost equally great pain and turmoil. Not because of Mormonism, but because of the unrighteous actions of someone I trusted & loved greatly. It has been a difficult year. Then last week some new trials popped into my life. One was fiscal. I’m losing $500.00 per month in income and realized that someone else I thought was trustworthy, had in all likelihood been using me taking advantage of me for the last few months. Now I would need to find another job in order to properly care for my family. For someone who already works four part time jobs that idea is distressing.

I had just gotten home from work the evening I learned this. I’d been home about 5 minutes when a process server showed up at my door. My ex-husband is suing me. It will cost me more to defend myself than it would if I just gave him everything he wanted, but if I don’t stand up to him, he’ll just keep pulling this kind of garbage. (OK, vent over). I broke down completely after reading the papers I was served. Sounds dumb, I know. After all I’ve been through the last 5 years you’d think I could take something like this in stride, but I couldn’t. It was like the final straw on a very weary and weak back.

Pouring out my heart to God I asked what more He wanted of me. Why did it seem like the more I strove to honor and obey Him, the harder life became? Was it worth it to keep doing my best to honor a God who didn’t seem to care one whit about my and my children’s lives. Every day is a struggle and the more I strive to become righteous, the harder life gets. Sometimes it seemed that the more righteous I tried to behave, the more the wicked got away with things and I was seemingly punished. I didn’t think I could keep going. I’d live of course, for the sake of my children, but wasn’t sure how I would strive any longer.

At that very moment a gentle voice whispered into my ear. Why do you serve God, Annmarie? Are you doing it for rewards? Are you doing it for glory? Are you doing it for ease? If so, that isn’t really working out for you, is it?

I thought about that for most of that night. I couldn’t sleep because of all the stress I felt anyway. Throughout the evening the story of Habakkuk came to my mind. I haven’t read that book in a few years, but the story was as fresh and alive as if I’d read it that morning. I came to some conclusions. I serve God because I love Him. I serve Him because I wouldn’t feel right or natural doing anything else. I’m His child and have been since before the world was created. I will not be okay doing anything other than filling the measure of my creation.  I do not serve Him for rewards or glory.  God was right. The just live by faith. I had to make a decision-again- to live that way as well.

Do I believe God is righteous? Do I believe God will do things with my best interest at heart? Can I trust Him? Does He deserve my love? The answer to all these questions is yes. Therefore I can do nothing other than come to the same conclusion as Habakkuk.

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines;

the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat;

the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The Lord is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,

and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.”

I serve God because it is the right thing to do. I will, even in my despair, look to Him to give me strength. He will make my feet steady. He will give me the endurance. I will trust Him to be an anchor to my soul, that I can fulfill with my life, as it says in Ether 12:4.

“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety of hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”

For that is the reason I serve Him. I hope to glorify God. With prayer and grace, I can do that while living in poverty or wealth, while being loved or used and mistreated. The circumstances of my life do not make my goal any harder or easier, therefore I will strive not to lose site. I serve God because I love Him. I want to bring Him glory.

If that is true, than I shouldn’t waver just because life is a struggle. I should dip my head out of the feelings of despair that overwhelm and seek to drown me. I will look to my Heavenly Father in reverence, trust, and faith.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Love for Wounded Hearts

People tell me their deepest secrets. Even strangers. I can meet someone during a morning walk, and by the end of two miles I’ve learned their husband beats them and they’re pregnant with twins. I’m not sure why people tell me things. Maybe it is because in some way they sense that I’ve been damaged too. At least that is how my friend, Deanna describes me. I love Deanna. I’ve never met a more lovingly blunt person in my life. She’s who I go to when I want a raw, honest answer. Whatever the reason, people tell me things and I listen. We often cry together and try to work out a solution.

In the last three months I’ve had four people confess to me they’d been molested as a child. Not all of them are local, or even people I knew for more than an hour, lest people try to imagine who it could be. Please don’t do that. Sometimes they email or call from far away. They wanted someone to talk to about it that would not judge them. They wanted a release for some of the emotions they have been bottling up for years. We don’t talk about what happened to them, because if it were me, I wouldn’t want to talk about that. Instead we talk about what they worry about now. There is a common theme I saw in all four of them, and others I know that have suffered in similar ways. The biggest is the feeling of something being wrong with them. As if they are not worthy to be loved.

They weren’t just speaking about romantic relationships, but relationships in general. One young man put it this way. “I always care about people way more than they care about me. It makes me wonder if something is wrong with me.” My heart broke in two listening to that young man. If it wouldn’t have been highly inappropriate, and I could have, I would have wrapped him in my arms and told him how much my heart ached for him to feel loved. To know that he was loved by many.

But, I know from experience that that wouldn’t have convinced him anyway. He’d need proof. I can’t furnish that. His sentiment isn’t unusual with people of similar experiences. Never had I wished I had more wisdom than I actually did than at that very moment. It wasn’t an easy thing for him to say to me. I know because I’ve uttered very similar words to my friend Vicki and it cost me a lot of private emotion to do so. The wisdom didn’t come. So I said the only thing that made sense to me.

I told him I think the problem is that we are surrounded by humans. The fact is people, including ourselves, are naturally selfish. Not necessarily evil, though there are many who have given way to evil ruling their lives. Our natural human framework for thinking is how it affects us. Rarely do we take time out in the midst of actions or conversations and put it in the framework of how it affects others. We are all like that to some extent. Some people stretch that farther than others, but we all do it. If you combine the natural idiocy of humans and the insecurities of people who’ve been very wounded, you get despair and pain.

I have found a solution though. At least personally. There is one person who will always love unselfishly. As a matter of fact, He tends to forget Himself quite a bit and focus on the needs of others. We never have to doubt that our Savior cares about us, or that He has an agenda and is manipulating us. Of course, I’m not na├»ve enough to think His love is because of any personal worth of my own. I know it is because of HIS personal worth. He loves, because that is who He is. I think there is something that everyone who has been wounded by their mortal existence can learn from that.

Probably the best way to counter not being loved is by loving. When we can forget about ourselves and pour our lives out elsewhere we get to feel real love. Not the temporary, selfish, human kind, but the kind our Savior wants us to know. His love. Charity. We don’t feel externally from others, but internally.

The first and most important place to do this is in our homes. Forget about our agendas and look at what are the needs of those around us. How can we help them meet their goals? However, we can even get selfish there, so we need to spread our wings a little and find people to love and serve outside the sphere of our little home. I feel the most at peace when I am bringing peace to others. You’ll find quickly that if you’re doing that for the wrong motive, you will not get the results you were expecting. If you’re serving others to get something out of it, even peace, you’re missing the point. We’re supposed to forget about ourselves and think about others.

That means when they are selfish and ungrateful, it doesn’t change our love. We’re not doing it for gratitude. We’re doing it to help others the way our Savior would. The peace and joy we get is just a side effect. Not a bad side effect though, huh? So this week, make it a point to find someone and serve them selflessly. Do something for someone, deserving or undeserving, that they need, but aren’t asking for.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Learning On Your Own

Well, I haven’t really been blogging for a few weeks for a couple of reasons. First was that I have been putting a lot of “overtime” in one of my jobs. It’s been many, many times the hours as usual and I’m having  a hard time keeping up.  Too bad I’m on salary.  Secondly is that I’ve had some things I needed to think through that I’m not supposed to be blogging about. That was hard, because I do much of my sorting out by writing and talking. I haven’t been able to do either.  I haven’t let any dust settle on me though. I’ve gotten a lot of Scripture study in, but I must say there is a lot about Mormonism that is confusing. I don’t understand how all the rules work together. Some of them seem to contradict one another, but you find that in everything because life isn’t so simple that everything can be neatly filed. I used to rely on someone else to help me understand things, but I’ve learned what a mistake that was. People can’t always be trusted. Plus, if you ask 10 people the same question, you can sometimes literally get 10 contradictory answers. There is a solution though.

Each of us who has been baptized and confirmed into the church has the Holy Spirit residing with them, unless they’ve done something to drive Him off. Even then, with repentance, He will happily return. That is who we should be going to for our answers. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask questions. I ask thousands. I’m sure Brother Stuckey and President Jones sometimes get tired of answering them, though they are too polite to say so. (Lucky for me). So, questions are ok, but relying on others for your answers is not.

If there is anything I’ve learned over the last year the most, it is to listen to the whisperings of the Spirit above the voices you hear around you, even if those voices claim to have more knowledge and experience than you do. If I would have heeded my conscience and the voice of the Spirit in a large matter that happened last year, I would have saved myself much heartache. Believe me, if the Spirit is warning you about someone, take Him seriously. Life experience isn’t nearly as much fun as recognizing the voice of the Spirit.  It is incredible the many ways that Heavenly Father has made available for us to really hear what He is trying to say. Learning them is such a joy.

The easiest for me of those is through Scriptures. In the last few weeks of my Scripture study, I’ve seen a few recurring themes. The most interesting have been faith and prayer. I’ve started a system to start indexing what I’ve been learning. In my scripture journal, I have begun putting a note in the margin what the “topic” is that the passage I’m been impressed to write about.  Then every few weeks I take each of these topics and put them in their own designated page in a notebook I’ve started. It is helping put things together to get a better picture instead of just being focused on one little verse. Once you look at the topic in light of the many scriptures related to it, it makes it much easier to get a true picture of the topic. I’m so excited about all I’ve been learning. Well, this isn’t much of a post, but I’ve got a sick child to attend to.