Working with God is draining sometimes.
When Emma, my first, was born, I had so much to be grateful for. Labor had been fast, my husband was there the whole time and we were enjoying our healthy little girl together.
The first couple of nights home took adjusting of course, and I was tired and a bit overwhelmed.
I figured that feeling would pass, but as the weeks went on, I couldn’t figure out how to get this little girl to sleep! She would wake up every time I put her down. She slept on walks during the day, but had the hardest time sleeping anywhere but my lap at night! I was so tired. Every time she woke up I would nurse her again, try to put her down, she’d wake up, and so on. If I nursed her during the day and put her down, she went right down! She was still a newborn with barely any waking hours, so this wasn’t a fixable by keeping her up all day.
I remember praying she would sleep, that she would stay down this time. And she didn’t. I remember praying and telling God, “Okay, I don’t know what I did wrong or maybe my feelings haven’t been right or something, but really, I want to be a good mom! I need sleep to do that!” But still, very little sleep at night.
This went on for several weeks, until I realized she would go down in her carseat! Sleep returned! Not entirely, but much much more! Then she became colicy. Holding her for hours while she cried I wondered why she hated being here and hoped she would find joy sometime in being here on earth! Eventually some things changed and her colic disappeared. But for those hours and weeks I didn’t know what to do, what to pray for, or if I was doing something wrong.
Through that frustrating experience, I realized I didn’t know how to pray like I thought I did. I thought my job was to want something good, and then explain to God what it was and why I wanted it, and then have faith. Is’t that what the scriptures say? Ask and ye shall receive? Ask in faith, nothing doubting?
Of course anyone with ongoing health concerns knows that’s not always the case, but I had never been there before. I had never really felt like a prayer that mattered to me had gone unanswered. Of course I hadn’t always received the grade I wanted or it rained on a day I had some big event planned. Those things, of course. But being a new mom had made everything seem so important, and that mixed with extreme tiredness made my prayers feel more serious than ever. And I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t being answered in the way I thought they would be.
Looking back I think, So, she didn’t sleep well. Oh well. True, I could have been a better mom, I think, if I’d had more sleep. But we were safe and loved and happy. And my prayers were answered in a different way than I thought, and later than I wanted.
I couldn’t reason my way to God’s will.
I’ve also learned something of the good and bad of reasoning from God’s will.
We all do this. Something happens in our life and we try to figure out why it happened. Good or bad, we like to see reasons for what happened. Oh, God wanted me to learn such-in-such, we say. Or, look at all these good things that happened, that must be why I had that experience. Or, maybe I’m just not good enough, or faithful enough. That must be why that happened.
In reality though, we almost never know what God’s up to. We can guess, and our mortal minds like a good puzzle, but we really just don’t know. In fact, many times I’ve made up a good story about why something happened, only to have a new event come along and change the whole story. Sometimes these stories we make up become something we cling to, and when they are shattered it shatters our faith.
It’s hard, but we can’t mistake our reasonings about God’s will for God himself. That is, we have to have faith in our experience with God directly, through the Spirit, and not place our faith in our own reasonings about those experiences with God.
At some point, I had the assignment to give a talk on Ether 12:27. God says, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble.”
We focus on the last part of the verse much more often than this part, so think carefully about that this says. First, God gives us weakness. We come defective. We don’t like thinking that way about ourselves, but it’s true. God made us weak. But then, that weakness is not our fault. We all struggle, we are all weak.
Second, why did he do that?? Well, here, for once, we know God’s reasons. He does this so that we will be humble. Not to see if we’ll overcome or fix those weak parts of us. Not even to test us to see if we have faith enough to fix those defects. He wants only and simply for us to be humble. We mortals are so confident and interested in perfection that we might actually think we were strong enough to do it without him, so he placed in us defects and weakness on purpose so that we would remember him. He sabotaged our lives, as it were. 🙂
Jacob says that God showed them their weakness, so that the Nephites would remember that their power to move mountains and perform miracles was really God’s power all along.
Paul says that when we are weak, it allows God’s power to be seen through us. If we were stronger, we’d see God much much less often.
Moroni learns that when we recognize our weakness and go to God about it, he makes weak things become strong. That sounds like our weakness goes away, but read all of Ether 12. Moroni’s weakness (writing) doesn’t go away. But God uses his weakness for something strong.
Nephi says the same thing about that book. The weak writing of the Book of Mormon becomes strong through readers’ faith. The Book of Mormon comes sabotaged too – we need God to make it strong.
So it appears to me that everything that happens to me – good or bad – is meant to show me that God is real. Just that, really. Yes I learn other things (how to be kind, how to work hard, etc.) but the fundamental purpose seems to be showing mortals that God is there and in charge of it all. When we are blessed, we remember God’s mercy. When we have trials, we remember God’s strength. Either way, we are acknowledging God’s work and God’s hand.
So rather than trying to reason about God’s will, first I think he wants us to just recognize we need him.
A great example of this is Jacob, Lehi’s son.
Lehi tells Jacob, his first-born in the wilderness with so many afflictions, that all his sufferings will be “consecrated for his gain” because he has faith. His afflictions weren’t erased, and his brothers continued to vex him and even continued to try to kill the Nephites, but because Jacob has a “knowledge of the goodness of God,” somehow all of that would be consecrated, or made sacred.
It reminds me also of D&C 42, where it says if someone is blessed to recover from an illness they will live unto God, and if they die, they die unto God. A blessing didn’t change God’s will, but rather, it consecrated (or made sacred) either path. It was still up to God, but now God’s hand could be seen in it.
Sometimes God has a grand plan (think Nephites, Gentiles, Jews, etc.), but other times, I think the grand plan comes after the event. The question is: how can this be used for good?
How else can we make sense of repentance? Did God plan on us sinning?
No, but bad things can be turned for good.
Did God want that horrible thing to happen to me?
No, but bad things can be turned for good.
Why did God let that person do that to me? Did he want that to happen to me? Did I deserve it?
No, but bad things can be turned for good.
I love this view of the world, because no matter what Satan does, or what the world does, or even what I do, God’s work still rolls on. He can take whatever happens and turn it for good. Or, he can take any earthly temporal thing and consecrate it. That’s what the priesthood does, right? Takes mere mortal things and turns them into something heavenly? And so I think that’s my picture of God, where my reasonings (as it were) go – a God who is so powerful that no matter what happens, he always turns it into something good.
I like that. It gives me great comfort.
And so I feel like we get ourselves too worked up sometimes trying to reason out a good plan first, and then wondering when it doesn’t happen, why God isn’t hearing us or wondering what mortal thing (my weakness, lack of faith, or another person) is getting in the way. And we also get tangled up trying to reason out what plan was laid behind everything that happens to us. But perhaps God is planning now, and wants to make everything sacred and for good now.
Or, rather, he may have plans, but we can’t count on ever knowing them. What we do know is that regardless of past plans or current troubles or unanswered hopes and dreams, God can consecrate anything and from here, an infinite number of good things is possible.