Note: This article is adapted from a talk given to a Taylorsville Utah Stake Relief Society on February 4, 2011.
A few years ago I was going through a hard time spiritually. I was full of self-doubt and concern that my happily-ever-after had dissolved into challenges, uncertainties, and disillusion.
I had tried so hard for 22 years in my first marriage, and it had failed. When I married Doug he was a brand new convert. We married civilly with a solid plan to be sealed in one year. More than a decade later, although he was always active, he still hadn’t made the decision to go to the temple.
Doug had two sons who were several years younger than the youngest of my five. Being a stepparent was daunting from day one. The following experience is symbolic: I fixed a hot dog at the request of a seven-year-old stepson. I cut it in half, and said with a smile, “There you go! “ Much to my amazement his face crumpled and he began to wail, crying loudly, “My mom never cut my hot dogs in half!” And so it went!
Challenges with my own sons, two of whom were grown and out of the home by the time I re-married, were much more complicated than the hot dog scenario. I simply hadn’t expected life to be so hard, and I was a bit hung up on the idea that if I had somehow been better, done better, or if the Lord had just answered more of my prayers, I could actually have had the ideal life I had set out to create all those years before. I had so many celestial goals, but like Elder Maxwell said, kept getting caught up in telestial traffic jams.
A Comforting Dream
One night during those hard years, I had an unusual dream — the first I ever had that I considered of real significance. It was so real, so vivid. I saw myself driving alone up a narrow mountain road, shivering in the cold of a dark rainy night. Fear enveloped me. The road had no shoulder, no place I could turn around or pull over, much as I wanted to.
I was driving higher and higher up the treacherous mountain that was slick with rain. As I approached a hairpin curve, I suddenly realized I could not hold the road. I’ve never been more terrified as my car sailed off into black dark nothingness. I was falling, helpless, knowing I was going to die. I could do nothing but give myself totally over to God. As I did so, my fear was swallowed up by the most intense, most amazing peace I have ever known. I felt and saw myself cradled, safe and warm, in God’s loving hands (just like I’ve seen pictures of the planet Earth in His hands) and nothing else mattered.
I woke up still wrapped in peace, and sat up in bed, amazed. I pondered in my dark bedroom the symbolic message of the dream. In one of the most perilous circumstances I could imagine, I felt that the Lord had shown me I could trust Him implicitly … that we are always in His hands, regardless of outward perils. I soon came across scriptures validating the message of my dream, such as, “Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power?” (Mormon 5:23) and “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101:6).
Applying the Message of the Dream
A few years later, I was in a three-car freeway accident. Just before impact everything went into slow motion; my dream came forcibly to mind and I surrendered to God, as I had in the dream. I felt in actual experience that I was in His hands — and my life was preserved.
A couple of years after my accident, my son Brian took his own life. When I learned of that awful happening I had my most vivid experience of sailing off into dark black nothingness. There were moments when remembering I was in God’s hands — and that Brian was in His hands — was the only thing that kept me sane and sustained me through the grief and hard learning experiences.
In my books I detail how my trust in God came to be strong and sure on the big things, but I have to tell you, there is never a day that the adversary doesn’t tempt me to dwell on negative thoughts, self-doubt, and fear on what seem to be little things. I can be like a sieve letting the soft fine sand of faith and trust drain out of me, leaving coarse rocks of doubt that His promises extend even to me. How does that happen?
The Battleground of the Mind
It is part of the plan of agency that we be enticed by both the voice of the adversary and voice of the Holy Ghost. In 2 Nephi 2:16 we read, “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” Yes, the Holy Ghost entices us to believe the truth!
Satan entices us to feel bad about ourselves, to be discouraged, to believe we won’t make it. One of Satan’s names is “the accuser,” and he is well-practiced and accomplished at throwing darts of false accusation. We can learn to recognize his accusing voice clearly in our thoughts and cast it out. The temptations presented by Satan to believe his false accusations are real! I call it the battleground of the mind. In no other scenario are we more in need of God’s protection and help.
On this battleground, in order to gain victory over the adversary it helps to be forewarned. Satan and his cohorts have had thousands of years of practice. They know our natural man weakness and are well aware that the fall programmed us with a natural tendency to negativity, doubt, fear, and worry. It’s like our default setting, the path of least resistance.
Think about it: does it take effort to be negative? No, but it often takes a conscious decision to focus on light and truth. The devil knows just how to capitalize on our natural tendencies. The natural man is an enemy to God because in his mind he is giving heed to the voice of Satan, not the voice of the Holy Ghost.
Glimpses into the Thoughts of Two Sisters
Again, it is so often in the little things that we can get tripped up. Even though I tried, I couldn’t think of a better way to illustrate than this skit by Gladys Allen that I began using in talks, with her permission, years ago. It will give you a bird’s eye view into the thoughts of two Relief Society sisters who are in differing circumstances and stages of life. First is Angela Good, a young mother, who is the Relief Society teacher on this particular day, then Rhea Sharp, an older sister.
Angela is laying out the materials for her lessons just before Relief Society begins when Rhea Sharp comes in, sits on the front row and starts watching her.
Here are Angela’s thoughts:
Oh, I wish my kids had caught the measles from the neighbors so I wouldn’t have to give this lesson today. I feel so inadequate, especially with Rhea sitting on the front row. She is so cultured, so refined. She graduated from one of the finest universities while I barely made it through one year at the community college. I can only imagine the wonderful books she reads. Me? I’m into doctor Seuss!
And look at that beautiful suit she’s wearing. I feel so dowdy in my homemade dress made from the same material as my girls’ dresses. But the fabric was so cheap I had to buy the whole bolt. I should have made quilts with it. Rhea doesn’t make quilts. She sits on cultural arts boards and plays with the symphony. My kids’ idea of a cultural night out is to go to the nursery during Relief Society activities. Oh, it’s no use. I’ll never make it to the celestial kingdom. I have no education, no talents, no class. All I can do is cook and sew and make little crafty things. I’m going to ask my husband to release me from this calling!
Now, here’s Rhea:
Oh no! If I’d remembered it was Angela’s turn to give the lesson today I would have volunteered to substitute in Primary. Angela always makes me feel so telestial. She seems to be such a master of all the womanly arts. Besides, she’s married to the bishop, has seven well-behaved kids. Seven!
I could hardly take my eyes off her girls in sacrament meeting today. She actually had to nudge them to get them to unfold their arms to take the sacrament. I used to have to drag Bret and Rodney out from under the benches. The girls looked so angelic in the dresses Angela had made to match her own. Amazing!
I’m so envious of her, really. The dinner she brought in after my knee replacement was so good my husband is praying I’ll need more surgery. Even homemade bread. The last time I tried to bake bread I had to give it to Interstate Brick. And look at those crocheted bookmarks she’s offering everyone who finished reading the latest conference talks. I forgot. Oh, who am I trying to kid. I’m not celestial material. I can’t cook or sew or do crafts, nobody even cares about my musical talents! And now I’m about to fail the bookmark test. I think I’m going to be depressed!
Is Anyone Exempt?
Is there anyone out there who has not at one time or another indulged in this kind of thinking? Weren’t these sisters, in their minds, doing what we all do at times — judging and comparing, and giving in to the natural man tendency to focus on weakness instead of strengths. The result is dangerous — we can be led to the lie that we can’t make it, that we haven’t got what it takes — and of course without Christ, that’s true. But nothing is impossible with His help.
The Voice of the Comforter is Easy to Detect
The way to victory on the battleground of the mind is so simple — not easy, but simple and we tend to make it complicated and hard. It really is black and white. The Comforter is the Spirit of Truth and His voice comforts! Doubt, fear, and worry are never the truth.
The Comforter will never tell you that all is lost, that you are a failure, that it is too late for you, or that whatever tragedy has happened is going to ruin your life. We can change the channel when those kinds of thoughts come up. We can change our thoughts — and I’ve had to, many times, this very week.
One truth I’ve learned is that an event is simply an event and has no meaning until we assign it one. The story we choose to believe about it gives it meaning and the adversary is always trying to make that meaning negative. This principle applies to the smallest trials as well as the biggest. For instance, last week I backed into the neighbor’s car and I lost an important card that had money in it. I can choose to listen to the negative voice that tells me I’m stupid, careless, inept, and a lost cause. Or I can choose to remember Ether 12:27 — that the Lord gave us weakness that we may be humble. I can listen to the Spirit and thank the Lord for such good opportunities to increase my humility!
Now let me tell you from my own life how I’ve found it necessary to fight the battleground of the mind in regard to major trials. Since my divorce, the adversary has relentlessly enticed me to assign negative meanings to that whole experience. He whispers in my ear that I have lost my chance for exaltation, that my sons will never recover from the negative impact, that divorce is something I can never repent of, that it marks me as inferior, unworthy, with no more value than a squashed bug.
What does the Holy Ghost tell me? He constantly draws me to the scriptures and reminds me that even if this unfortunate situation had been caused solely by my own weakness, that the Atonement is real. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that the inability to make a marriage work is an unforgivable sin. I am not exempt from the Lord’s promise in 3 Nephi 9:14 “Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended toward(s) you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive.”
The Spirit reminds me that when the Lord says, “all things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” He does not say, unless you’ve been divorced! My situation does not make me the exception, and neither does yours.
Every minute I can choose which voice to pay attention to, which voice to believe. If I choose to believe the adversary I am kept in a state of misery, and his purpose is fulfilled: 2 Nephi 2:18 says, “And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind.” And by the way, he doesn’t care how he makes you miserable — if he can do it by getting you to be miserable by comparing yourself with another sister in Relief Society, or by condemning yourself for backing into the neighbor’s car, he’ll be perfectly satisfied with that!
Conversely, what is the Lord’s purpose? To give us the fruits of the Spirit: joy, peace, love, and hope. If I choose to believe the Holy Ghost and the scriptural promises, I experience a perfect brightness of hope that I can come unto Christ and be forgiven and healed. When I do that, the Lord’s purpose is fulfilled.
Let me give you a second example of how this works.
Although I thought I had learned what trials of my faith were all about before, when my son died it was like my faith had only been a rope coiled at my feet.
I said it was strong. I believed I had faith, but suddenly I was hanging by that rope over a precipice and it was the only thing saving me from falling into a black abyss.
Was my rope of faith strong enough? Again the battleground was in my mind. Would I believe the voice of the adversary who was whispering that I was experiencing the biggest failure possible as a mother, that I was surely not worthy to even lift my eyes to the heavens to pray, that nothing I could do could possibly make up for this or make things right again, that I should have known what to do to help Brian, that I should have known what would make the difference, that somehow it was my fault, that every weakness and mistake and poor judgment of my life had somehow been compounded into this one horrible event? Suicide is the kind of tragedy that can drive every bit of spiritual sanity out of our minds if we let it.
Over and over, minute by minute, I found it necessary to reaffirm my faith and hang onto that rope. I searched the scriptures with an intensity I had never known before and pled with the Lord for understanding and for affirmation that they still applied to me. The scriptures and my sacramental covenant to remember Jesus, and His Spirit would be with me, became my lifeline.
When I didn’t feel the Spirit, when I didn’t feel anything but grief, when I couldn’t find any logical reason to do so, I chose faith in Christ — not because I’m a rock or have some kind of unusual spiritual strength, but sometimes because the only alternative was to let go of the rope and fall into the darkness. And other times because I was able to remember and hang onto previous spiritual assurances. I have had for decades a strong firm testimony that Jesus is called the Savior because he has the power to save us — not only from sin and death, but from our weakness and grief, ignorance, and errors of judgment. From big calamities as well as every-day adversities.
Each time I chose faith, my faith grew and my path led to more light. I found that soul-shaking challenges are also soul-shaping! And we have the choice of how they will shape us. We can choose to see them in the true light of trust in God’s power and love.
Applying the Principles
I invite you to apply these principles to whatever darkness may be threatening you right now. What is the adversary whispering to you? How is he trying to get you to doubt your worth, doubt your ability to fill your life’s mission, doubt your strength to hang on to your rope of faith? What is the Holy Ghost telling you? What scripture promises do you need to hang onto right now to overcome the devil’s designs to pull you into misery? Which voices will you choose to heed in this moment-by-moment battleground in your mind?
It’s so important to be aware of what we are thinking. We can write down a negative thought and say, “Is this true? Can I really know it is true?” and the very process can help us put it to rest. We can ask the Lord to help us remember to flood our minds with the truth and not be deceived.
Light Rules over Darkness
Here’s the exciting thing: When we let in the tiniest glimmer of light, darkness is dissipated. Light rules over darkness because Christ rules over Satan. When you bring one tiny candle into pitch black darkness, you can see your way. If I had all the shades drawn but it was sunny outside, when I pull the shades the light floods in and chases the darkness away. But let’s say it was pitch dark outside and a room had many bright lights turned on and we opened the drapes to the darkness of night, the darkness doesn’t flood in; it doesn’t affect the light at all. Light triumphs over the darkness.
Even so, we can’t let down our guard. The adversary will never give up his dark designs on us until the day we die. I have a faithful, amazing friend who is dying. She is divorced, childless, and mostly paralyzed. She works hard to focus on the Lord and His promises, but sometimes she laments her lack of children and eternal companion and inability to take care of herself. A friend of hers, a temple president, emailed her and said, “Perhaps we all need to change the lens of our glasses. We keep viewing things through a mortal prism, as if all wrongs had to be corrected on this earth and all desired blessings be realized before we leave this place. It isn’t so; we have all eternity. Steady as she goes. You are doing very well. When you find yourself wavering a little in faith, or doubting self-worth, don’t forget to say, ‘Get thee hence, Satan.’”
And this is exactly what we can each say in any moment of darkness. We can command Satan to depart, We can get blessings, and we can pray with all our might for the light to flood back into our minds. Sometimes we need professional counseling to learn cognitive therapy. Sometimes we need specific medications to improve the balance of our brain chemistry. But we can get the help we need!
Our Focus is so Important
We need to remember that he solution for our problems or the world’s problems is not a Korihor-like management of the creature — becoming so good at controlling and organizing and running our lives that we don’t need the Savior. Instead, the solution is turning our whole lives over to Him, seeking and following His direction, trusting Him no matter what!
I constantly feel the need to apply that formula to the current world situation, which could otherwise drive me to distraction. If we focus on the bad news — which is so rampant — we can spend all our time playing the dark, “Ain’t it awful game.” But if we focus our thoughts on the good news of the gospel and the eternal nature of God’s promises, we can stand all amazed at the Lord’s love.
I’ve learned that the peace within our souls does not depend on the economy or the political climate, or the level of righteousness or wickedness in the world, but upon the level of our trust in God and the level of our awareness of His influence and loving care. Think of Mormon who watched the destruction of his people, until he was alone, yet wrote to his son Moroni, saying, “My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up … and may his mercy and long-suffering … rest in your mind forever. (Moroni 9:25)
I testify that we can stay in a place of inner peace only when we let the mercy and long-suffering of Christ rest in our minds.
Christ will lift us up. He is in control, the ultimate outcome is sure and we are safe in His hands.
What happens between now and the Millennium will not thwart His purposes, but bring them to fulfillment.
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