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Last week we had a great conversation in church about Lehi’s Vision in the Book of Mormon.  For those not familiar with the vision, you can find all the details of the vision in 1 Nephi chapters 8 and 11.

In the vision, there is a part where mists of darkness arise around people who are striving to reach a tree with fruit that is most desirable and fills ones soul with joy.  The tree, according to scripture, represents the love of God.

In the Church, I feel that when we discuss the mists of darkness that arise in Lehi’s dream, we often correlate that with temptations, sins, and distractions from Satan that take us off of our path to God and to wayward paths.

However, last week, as we discussed and read about the dream, I thought about times in my life when I have literally had mists of darkness arise when experiencing depression or discouragement.  I’ll paraphrase one experience that I wrote about in the book Discovering Light:

There was one day while I was experiencing extreme depression and doubt.  I was driving in the rain and crying from the heavy weight that I was feeling.  Thoughts were swirling around in my mind and I pulled over and offered a mighty prayer in desperation, asking God to intervene.

Within a couple of minutes, my Grandfather called me, out of the blue.  Hearing his voice as he said “my boy!” immediately snapped me out of my downward spiral of negative thinking and I smiled as I remembered the fun times I had with him growing up next door.  Images of riding horses together, working together, singing together, etc. came into my mind.

I shared with him my emotional state and how depressed I felt.  He opened up to me and shared with me how intimately he understood my situation and shared some very personal experiences of a time when he was depressed right after my Grandmother had passed away.

He then shared his testimony of how God carried him and helped him through and he knew God would do that for me too.  This conversation gave me hope for that day and was a testimony to me that not only did my Grandfather care for me, but my Heavenly Father did as well and had sent Grandpa as an angel to rescue me.

 

This experience reminds me of something Russell M Nelson, from the Quorum of the 12 Apostles recently wrote in his book “Accomplishing the Impossible”.  He writes:

…angels are at work. Often our members are “angels” to neighbors in need. Home teachers and visiting teachers, as ordinary people, frequently render service that seems angelic to grateful recipients….I am among the many who have often referred to the loving acts of an “angel mother” or an “angel wife,” or the priceless love of “angel children”.

Do we believe in angels? Yes! We believe in angels-heavenly messengers-seen and unseen; and earthly angels who know whom to help and how to help.  Gospel messengers, or angels, can include ordinary people like you and me (pg 25).

 

I’ll forever be grateful for my Grandfather who was close to the Spirit and listened to a prompting from God and acted as an angel to my prayer when I was in the middle of a “mist of darkness”.

From personal experience, I know that darkness, doubt, and depression can be overpowering and make one feel like it is impossible to accomplish the task of even getting through another day.  I know that with God’s help, we can all accomplish the impossible to either have strength to hold on while we are experiencing “mists of darkness” and eventually make it through.

If you are like me, there have been times in your life when you have prayed for an answer over and over and it appears that no one is listening.  Sometimes you may wonder if there is even a God at all.  Sometimes you may wonder if the Divine experiences and revelations you have received were something contrived by your own mind, or not.  Some may feel they haven’t ever felt God’s love in their life due to terrible circumstances. If you feel that God isn’t answering your prayers, ther is a great talk by Neal A Maxwell, former Mormon apostle: “Thanks be to God“.

Here’s an excerpt taken from the talk:

Yes, even in our prayers, we can, unintentionally, ask “amiss.” (2 Ne. 4:35.) No wonder humility is such an everlasting virtue. For us to accept God’s “No” as an affirmative indication of his love—rather than a lack thereof—and as a signal that we have asked amiss, this is true humility!

How often have you and I in our provincialism prayed to see ahead and, mercifully, have been refused, lest our view of the present be blurred?

How many times have we been blessed by not having our prayers answered, at least according to the specifications set forth in our petitions?

How many times have frustrating, even gruelling, experiences from which we have sought relief turned out, later on, to have been part of a necessary preparation which led to much more happiness?

“And now when Alma heard this … he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word.” (Alma 32:6; italics added.)

How many times have we impatiently expressed our discontent with seemingly ordinary and routine circumstances which were divinely designed, shaping circumstances for which, later on, we were very grateful? Alas, have there perhaps not also been those times when we have been grumpy with God or, unlike Job, even “charged God foolishly”? (Job 1:22.) How many times, naively, have we vigorously protested while on our way to a blessing?

Therefore, our faith in and thanksgiving for Heavenly Father, so far as this mortal experience is concerned, consists—not simply of a faith and gladness that he exists—but also includes faith and thanksgiving for his tutoring of us to aid our acquisition of needed attributes and experiences while we are in mortality. We trust not only the Designer but also his design of life itself—including our portion thereof!

I really like this quote because many times in my life I’ve prayed for something I think I wanted and God was patiently waiting for me to be ready to receive it. 

For example, I prayed for a number of years to meet a good lady to marry and start a family with.  However, whenever I met a lady who I thought would be good, I felt God was telling me to wait.  Sometimes I would try and force a relationship against the will of God and of course the relationship wouldn’t work.  It wasn’t until I humbled myself and realized I had some personal issues with feelings of abandonment and anxiety that I needed to overcome that I realized God was being merciful to me (and the girls I had been trying to force things with) by not giving me the “green light” so to speak to get into a serious relationship.  After I had dealt with overoming my feelings of anxiety, depression, and abandonment (which you can read more about in detail here), did God place a lady in my life.

What experiences have you had with feeling that God wasn’t answering your prayers, only to find that He really was listening?

 

In the New Testament, James defines pure religion as visiting people in their afflictions, and also keeping oneself unspotted from the world.

With that thought in mind, I contacted one of my aging grandparents, whose health is steadily declining.  I received a phone call from my grandparent a few weeks ago, but the excuses I used for not getting back in touch included work, church service, raising kids, spending time with my wife, not being able to reach out because when I finally do get time it’s about 9:00 p.m. and my grandparent is in bed.

So the days turned into weeks and I would say almost daily to my wife “I should call my Grandpa” and finally she told me to quit saying that and just schedule it on my calendar, which I did.

When I called, there was a different voice on the phone than what I was used to hearing and I was confused.  I asked if I had the right number and he told me I did, but my Grandpa was too sick to talk.  However, when my Grandpa heard it was me on the phone, he motioned to the caregiver and he passed the phone over, warning me that there were sores all over my grandpa’s mouth and it was hard to understand him.

The voice I heard on the other end was frail and muffled.  I was humbled that despite his very poor circumstances, he wanted to make time for a conversation with me.  I reflected on all the good things my father taught me, which he had learned from my grandfather.  I was lucky enough to also live in the same town as my grandparents, so I got to know them very well as a young kid and teenager.  They sacrificed a lot for all of us.

The conversation was pretty short as he needed to get some rest, but I reflected on the call.  Why did it take me so long to call?  If I were living in the same town as him, would I be too busy to stop by regularly? 

I then reflected on the scripture on pure religion.

James does NOT say that pure religion is going to church, holding a high calling or position of authority, paying tithing, and a whole list of other things that one could name in association with being “religious”.  Rather, James says a key part of pure religion is visiting those who are afflicted.

It takes extra effort to go above and beyond and schedule time to visit those who are sick and afflicted.  It takes another step to go and visit with a heart filled with pure love as Jesus would have us do.  Many times the elderly seem helpless and have certain quarks or things that are annoying.  It takes the love of Jesus to look past those things and remember that at one point in our lives, whether we were teenagers, young kids, or helpless babies that our parents and/or grandparents took time to selflessly give us love and care.

It’s easy to get caught up in many things in life, but I hope that we all can remember to schedule time to regularly visit, talk with, or serve our aging parents and/or grandparents or other elderly people we may know who are suffering before it’s too late and we have regrets.  This time, I was fortunate enough to have reached out in time, but it took me way to long to do so.  My plan is to schedule time regularly on my calendar so I make it a regular habit.

What are some suggestions and ways that you go about caring for the elderly?

While preparing to teach this week’s Sunday School lesson in 2 Corinthians, I came across a talk given by Paul Johnson, one of the Mormon Seventy, entitled “More Than Conquerors Through Him that Loved Us“.  There were a few lines in the talk that stood out to me, which I will quote:

At times it may seem that our trials are focused on areas of our lives and parts of our souls with which we seem least able to cope. Since personal growth is an intended outcome of these challenges, it should come as no surprise that the trials can be very personal—almost laser guided to our particular needs or weaknesses. And no one is exempt, especially not Saints striving to do what’s right.

A pattern in the scriptures and in life shows that many times the darkest, most dangerous tests immediately precede remarkable events and tremendous growth. “After much tribulation come the blessings.”

As I read this, I immediately reflected on my own personal trials I’ve experienced so far in my life.  For me, the most difficult trial I’ve had so far has been overcoming addictions, anxiety, and depression, which I’ve written about here and here.  In this post, I won’t spend any more time reflecting on the trial, rather, I will discuss the blessings that came after the trial.

Although I struggled with the issues for about 15 years, the most severe part of my trial lasted about 2 1/2 years as I struggled to overcome various problems partly caused from things I did and also from things that other people did that were out of my control. 

However, as I made progress and felt the Lord’s hand guide me through the way, I came to trust in Him completely and believed that as long as I followed Him, everything would work out for my own good.  Deep down, my deepest desire was to have a healthy relationship with a good woman, but if the Lord thought it would be best not to have that, I was fine with that because I had seen what trying to do things on my own had brought me over the past 15 years. 

Over time, God granted me peace of mind and spirit.  With that came confidence in my relationship with God and also with myself.  I grew to love who I was and feel gratitude in hy heart.  Shortly after the most sever part of my trial was over, God granted me the greatest blessing in my life other than the gospel: my wife.  It came unexpected, but I thank the Lord every day for the blessing that she has been in my life.  With her in my life, I feel that I have been able to come even closer to God as we grow in love for each other each day as we raise our family to the Lord. 

I know that my trials are different than others’ trials and what appears to be a trial for one person would not be a big deal for another.  The tendency is for people to not share trials, but this online format can provide a good place to share experiences and perhaps receive some insight.  I have learned that sharing experiences helps build faith and helps us get through the trial.  If you have an experience you would like to share about overcoming a trial and the blessings you received from the Lord afterwards, or if you are currently going through a trial and need some help, please share.

Author’s note:

The day I wrote this article, I came across an amazing story of a young Cambodian boy whose father was captured and killed that escaped with his mother to the U.S. and was able to overcome issues with drugs and gangs to find God and also earn his PhD.  See below:

I was browsing on LDS.org today and came across a great little YouTube message from President Uchtdorf. I thought this message was very good. Especially the quote from Romans 15. I went and read the whole chapter of Romans 15 and thought it was interesting how patience is a big factor involved with having hope.

Here is the message. Enjoy!

Cleanse your Soul with Grace for Grace “Spiritual SOAP”

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