Sunday, September 19, 2010

Someone To Talk To

Having a friend to talk with can be a wonderful gift when you are going through a difficult trial. Quite often, it’s nice just to have someone who will simply listen so you don’t feel alone. Many of life’s difficulties become much easier to bear when there is someone else who is at least aware of what you are going through. Their prayers can make a big difference in helping to bear your burdens.

Just prior to the Savior’s most lonely moments, he met with his beloved apostles for the Last Supper. He knew the magnitude of the burden He would have to bear, and he chose to be with those who were closest to Him. There he called them “friends,” and said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you….” (John 15:14-16) What a beautiful thing it is that Jesus would trust and confide in those who could give Him strength in his trials. I can think of no greater compliment than for the Lord to acknowledge me as His friend. I can only hope that someday I will have lived worthy enough to have such a privilege.

As the evening went on, Jesus described the difficulties that He would shortly face. He also told His apostles the difficulties they would face as His friends. Yet He promised them a gift for loving Him. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth … for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. … Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:16-17, 27) Being a friend to Jesus is not an easy thing. It is sure to be difficult. During times of loneliness when our burdens seem greater than we can bear, I am grateful that He has promised to help us.

Recently, I experienced a difficult trial that weighed heavily on my heart. I felt that I was again riding upon the waves of a raging tempest, and the ups and downs seemed too hard to bear. What seemed worse was that I experienced a moment of ambiguity where I hoped to feel the influence of the Holy Spirit and did not. That influence had not left me, but I didn’t feel the clear direction that I had prayed for. Instead, I felt distance. I also found it very interesting that I did feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit in other matters, just not in that particular one. I believe I was being tested to see what I would do on my own.

I reflected on what Jesus did after the Last Supper as He went with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. There he asked Peter, James, and John to watch and pray with Him. Sadly, in His time of need, they were not able to stay awake. Their own trials were bearing down on them and they could do nothing to help Him. It was in that moment of loneliness that Jesus called upon His Father in prayer and was strengthened by an angel who visited Him. Sometimes, when I need someone to talk to, and it seems there is nowhere else to turn, Father is always waiting to listen. I believe He gives us difficult experiences where no one else seems able to help because it causes us to turn to Him.

Earlier this year, I experienced similar trials where the ups and downs seemed unbearable. At times they felt like a rollercoaster of seismic activity. As that trial seemed to conclude I remember having the impression that the ups and downs of the previous year were just preparing me for another seismic event. I was being prepared for the next lesson. As I experienced a new set of ups and downs, I asked myself, “Is this it? Is this the culminating point of that impression?” I believe so. Remembering the impression didn’t take away the burden, but it did help to see that the Lord’s hand was in it and that I shouldn’t despair.

In the midst of the ups and downs, I found that I had emotional swings where I seemed to feel the spirit very clearly, alternating with moments of doubt and fog. On one particular morning a few weeks ago, there was an amazing thunder storm outside. I usually enjoy a good storm, but this time I felt different. Instead I felt great discouragement and despair. Things seemed very dark. I even felt as though I was encompassed about by the adversary, and I was troubled.

The next day I was still pondering the questions that had been on my mind, hoping for some answers. I ached. Before going to work, I stopped by a nearby cemetery to think and pray. That particular cemetery has been a good place for me to go when I need a few minutes of solitude – a place where I can eliminate distractions. I still felt confused about my direction. At times things seemed so clear, and then they would go foggy and not make as much sense. I was frustrated that I felt so distant from the spirit on this matter, that I was not receiving any revelation. That is when I began to pray.

As I sat in my car, I pled with Father to let me hear His voice again, or rather to have that familiar feeling that I am used to when I communicate with Him. I needed someone to talk to. As I did so, I felt the peace I was seeking return to my heart. I also had a reaffirmation that Father does hear and answer prayers.

I decided to test the pattern for receiving revelation, namely to study an issue out in my mind, come to a decision as to what was right, and then wait for the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. (Doctrine & Covenants 9:8) It is a simple process with many applications. Having faith in Jesus Christ is not just believing that He lived and that He will come again, it also includes having faith that what He said is true – true enough that it will work for me. This is what happened in my circumstance.

Pleading with Father, I asked a few questions and received some real time answers. It wasn’t like an audible voice. It was a very subtle feeling that I can never feel unless I am truly honest with myself and I have intent to learn and follow. The answers came as I asked the questions, tried to think what the correct answers might be, and then waited for the familiar feeling of the spirit to confirm or refute my thoughts.

In order to receive answers to prayer, I believe that the person praying has to believe, or at least have a hope, that Father does hear and answer prayers. He does so line upon line, and precept upon precept. This means that I may not receive the answers that I expect, but He will tell me just enough of what I need to know in order to complete my test.

As I asked my first question, “Am I wrong in my intent?” I thought in my mind that the answer was no. At the same time I felt the confirming peace in my heart that the impression was correct. I would have been uncertain had it not been for the familiarity of that peaceful feeling – a feeling that always comes when the Spirit of the Lord is near.

I then asked my second question, “Is my current course the right direction to continue in?” In my mind I thought yes, which again was confirmed by that peaceful feeling that comes from the Comforter. When I asked my third question, “Will my trial ever change?” I had a different thought that equated to, “John, that’s not for you to know right now. Be patient.” This, too, was accompanied by that familiar feeling. It wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, but I knew it was right in my heart. It didn’t come in the form of words, but as I felt the meaning in the impression, those were the words that seemed most appropriate to dress the meaning in. As I did so, the Holy Ghost confirmed that the feeling was correct.

Two additional questions were answered for me that helped me to feel better about the moments of clarity I had felt before. When I felt surrounded by fog and despair, it was easy to question those moments of clarity and doubt that my prayers had really been answered. Some of the questions were difficult to ask, because I believed I would get an answer I didn’t want. I did, but I had to know. I needed to feel like I could progress again. There are a lot of things I have wanted in my life, but above all, when I have tried to make the right choice, things have always worked out for the best. Though I didn’t receive all the answers I wanted, and some of the answers were not what I had hoped for, my faith was enlarged by the fact that I needed someone to talk to, and Father heard.

There is a verse of scripture that is very familiar to me, and definitely a foundation for my faith. The apostle James taught, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:5-6)

In order to overcome my own tempest-tossed emotions, I had to stabilize my faith first, and put my trust in God. For me, that meant that I had to be willing to do whatever He wants me to do. If I can be completely honest with myself in that regard, then He can be honest with me.

Not all answers to prayer come instantaneously. Mine came after months of prayer, work, and pondering. Some take more time than others, and usually this has more to do with my own understanding. When I don’t get answers to the questions I ask in prayer, I try to examine why. If God reveals things to us line upon line, am I asking for an answer that requires me to skip several lines? Is there is a simpler question that is more pertinent to my current circumstance? If I can’t have the answer to why, then maybe I can at least get an answer to what I should do right now. Asking, “What would Thou have me do?” can help me sift through what I want in order to discover what God wants for me at that moment.

God’s purpose in testing us is to help us. So often it seems that needed help comes when I am about to give up but choose to hold on a little longer and rely on my faith. That’s when I receive my witness.

By the end of that day, other events occurred that were an answer to my morning prayer, as well as months of prayer. My trial had come to an end, or at least that part of my lesson was complete. I am sure I am only being prepared for the next test whenever it may be. But this much I know, each of us is given trials to test our faith. If it is my faith that is being tested, then it is my faith that I should apply as quickly as possible. Any delay that I exhibit may prolong my trial. But when I turn my heart to Father, I know that He hears and answers prayers.

Most importantly, I have again learned one of the many ways that Father will answer prayers. If we have the faith to study out a question and come to the best answer possible, He will send the Comforter to let us know if the path we are on is correct. Though we may each feel the Holy Spirit in a different way, the pattern is promised. We need not endure our own Gethsemane to be assured that God lives and that He hears and answers prayers. When we need someone to talk to, He is always listening.

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