You know how a scripture sometimes jumps out at you? I had that happen recently. It was Psalm 107:9: “For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” Oh, could it be so? With all my inconsistency in spiritual things, could my longing, hungry soul somehow one day be satisfied?
Here are some of the things my soul longs for, hungers for.
I Long for Spiritual Consistency
“Be consistent!” How often I’ve heard those two words of very good advice—I know, I know, I know I should be consistent. Yet nothing has seemed further from my grasp. The sweetness of the Spirit is beyond description, and the days I don’t feel it I’m truly bereft. Yet when I scan journal pages over the years, a recurrent theme is recognition of my spiritual inconsistency. I could title the story of my life: Confessions of a Consistently Inconsistent Person.
In one entry I had recorded Alma’s exhortation to his brethren to “be watchful unto prayer continually” (Alma 34:39), followed by, “What happened to my resolve to pray always—to turn my mind continually to the Savior? How is it possible to forget so quickly, to get so ‘busy’ that such an important goal in my life could be counted as less important then my never-ending to do list? Surely the Lord will help me get back to keeping prayer foremost in my mind.”
Months later I re-read that entry and added, “I have to smile sadly at the pattern: I do well for a time, then lapse—in my morning writing, scripture study, prayer, exercise, work on family and picture history, you name it.”
The Key Is Consistent Re-Starting
My life seems to be a perpetual emotional roller coaster ride; illness, pain, and personal weaknesses speed me down the track to the bottom, and spiritual longings push me back up to the top. I never give up hope, however, because I always start again, try again, go back to the pattern that works for me spiritually! My early morning devotional time is so vital. When I miss it I feel at loose ends all day. But I’m learning to be gentle with myself on days I’m in survival mode and only manage the bare essentials. And I start again the next day, or the next!
The Lord instituted the sacrament weekly so that each Sunday I can “come back,” start again, and get the Lord’s help to overcome the results of inconsistent spiritual effort.
We are commanded to attend our meetings, listen and be taught gospel principles over and over as part of the invitation to “come back.” We have so many chances to “re-start,” so many sources of spiritual motivation to help pull us out of natural-man downward spirals.
I love to use Nephi’s “nevertheless” principle: Even though I am inconsistent, nevertheless, after all I can do, the Lord, in his great mercy, forgives the rest and makes up the difference as long as I keep coming back to him. He alone is totally consistent, and He consistently comes to my aid.
I Long for Spirit-Guided, not Compulsive Service
My “longing soul” longs to be able to do more, serve more. I hear constant media reports of calamity and more drastic needs than the whole church population can fill. Sometimes I think the modern media coverage is a curse; I’m so easily overwhelmed with just the needs in my family and ward, to say nothing of the millions affected by global disasters! It hurts my heart to know of so much suffering.
In Relief Society last week the lesson was on service. From the manual we read, “Christ-like service grows out of genuine love for the Savior and of love and concern for those whom He gives us opportunities and direction to help.” (Gospel Principles, p. 161, emphasis added.) That last phrase gave me comfort. As long as I’m seeking and listening to direction from the Holy Ghost, I will know which part of the massive need is my personal assignment—which He is giving me “direction to help.” I can let go of the rest, knowing God is in charge, not me.
I often feel driven and compelled to keep pushing, though, when my body is crying out for rest. What I want instead of compulsion or guilt-driven action, is to be led, guided, and inspired. The Spirit renews and refreshes. It doesn’t waste us away and leave us useless and spent. The Spirit heals, the Spirit motivates, the Spirit is the source of enthusiasm, which means, “God in us.” Let me give you a recent example. I knew I was being prompted to write a book of comfort for those who had lost a loved one to suicide, but I resisted and procrastinated because I was afraid not only of the mountain of work it would take but of the emotional price I expected to pay. When I actually responded to the prompting, the year I spent writing the book with the help of the Spirit was the most healing, the most spiritually edifying ever. I have to tell you I was stunned because it was so different from what I expected—and only because the Spirit was involved!
I remember Elder Parley P. Pratt description of the effects of the Holy Ghost:
“[His influence] quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being” (Key to the Science of Theology, 9th ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1965], p. 101).
I long for continuing person experiences with the effects of serving when guided and enabled by the Holy Ghost.
I Long to Rest and Relax When My Body Needs It
Still, my deep, unrelenting problem seems to be the inability to really relax and rest even when I give myself the time. Recently I asked my wise e-mail friend, Debbie Avila (who is mostly paralyzed by muscular dystrophy, bedfast and dependent on a respirator for years), for her wisdom on this subject. She has become such an inspiration to me. She replied:
You asked me how or what I do to relax my body and mind. In all honesty dear, I try not to anticipate or precipitate anything in my life, I used to, but, my belief system is, I can’t control anything in the first place. I do believe that being “prepared” as much as I can be gives me peace and I do my best to keep near the Holy Ghost. If my thoughts are peaceful and my environment is orderly, the rest doesn’t become anxiety.
I do several things for relaxation that serve me besides leaving my will on the temple altar in my mind.
One, I listen to Vivaldi, to violin and harp CDs; I read a poem and ponder and then drift away for enough time where I feel capable of going forth. I may listen to a book on tape or a talk, anything that centers me and balances my velocity.
Socrates warned us “Beware of the busyness of life.” There can’t be rest/relaxation if we are putting our trust in ourselves. (If we do that we are actually becoming our own gods, trusting the arm of flesh.) We can’t do everything, dearest girl, and sitting down or laying down in quietude is actually a form of worshiping and keeping healthy which is “the word of wisdom.” I remember well that Jesus went off, away from doing and everything around in order to commune, rest, relax and probably sleep!
Serpent-like thoughts that haunt us, telling us we should, could be doing more and, definitely better are all negative. They are not good! In Moroni 7:12 a prophet of God tells us, “Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil.” Nephi begs the Lord to help him tremble even at the “appearance of sin” [evil]. Such thoughts definitely have the appearance of evil to me. So, why do we allow these labeling thoughts nestle into our hearts?
Darla, there is sin in accepting this lie that you’re not doing enough or well enough and that when you’re just being it is judged by Father as shameful. To my understanding, when you buy into that you’re simply holding yourself back, telling Father you know best, you have a better plan of happiness then Him, that He hasn’t given you sufficient to fulfill your mission, that you would rather believe the distortion Satan has planted in you instead of His word, promises, covenants and priesthood. I don’t think you consciously “think” these thoughts but, this is the root and your body is, without hesitation, going to react to those false conclusions. Just try at any moment your thoughts are condemning and pricking you to use your agency to be the master of self.
I used to go to the temple every Wednesday for as long as my body allowed, and I relished every moment. But, here again, I had that season but only a season and it was acceptable to the Lord, and me. BECAUSE it was always for Him, through His grace and I never was simply “doing” for doing-sake or out of guilt or any other reason beside. I was able then, loved it, and chose to.
I’m slowly “choosing” to be less perfect—less perfectionistic. And it’s wonderful! I’m actually letting Debbie be Debbie and feeling Father’s joy and pleasure in that. Darla, as you understand the gospel and continue to grow in it, you’ll then try to be humble enough where you allow Father’s approval, appreciation and the trust which HE has in you! Rest in this hammock of light and radiance which He gratuitously proffers us. I’ll leave you with these thoughts and a tight embrace full of love and friendship !
I Long to Live in the Present Moment
Debbie’s reference to a hammock of light reminded me of a beautiful picture I cut out of a magazine of a woman in a hammock silhouetted with a sunset in the background.
The caption reads, “Accomplish nothing. It stirs the soul.”
Sometimes I long for more soul-stirring moments. I love times when I feel totally alive to nature without so many distractions. There is great joy in the serenity of nature, in pausing to listen to my heart, in being still so that the still, small voice can speak and be heard. In our frantically busy culture there are so few spaces for silence, and how can we hear the still small voice above the din of traffic and media?
It’s important too, to focus in the moment on those we love. I’ve done so much better in my “grandma” years at slowing down to capture golden memories. Memories such as laying on the grass watching little boys run and play, watching Malachi chase bubbles, seeing tiny Thayne discovering the delight of grass and dirt and water in his first summer outdoors. Listening to Nathan and Ammon giggle when I push them high, high, high, swinging in the hammock with granddaughters, feeling the joy of loving and being loved.
You might think I wasn’t getting anything done in those moments, but what an accomplishment it is to be alive in the moment, and to love.
I Long to Keep Technology in Its Place
I’m always super slow to embrace the latest technology, but I usually get there eventually. My husband got me an iPod for Christmas, and even though it took me a month to learn to turn it on and off and another month to learn to program anything on it, here I am, wired in yet another way! It’s wonderful to listen to music when I’m typing. It’s inspiring to listen to scriptures while I’m cooking dinner. It’s an incredible convenience to be able to read a good book anytime or any place.
However, the other day someone rang our doorbell and with the I-Pod in my ears I didn’t hear them. They finally left and had to come back later. This got me to thinking: how many times are we distracted from the needs of the present moment by technology. The most drastic examples might be car wrecks caused by diversion of attention to texting or talking on a cell phone while driving. My husband and I have had a few relationship wrecks partly because I was e-mailing and he was watching TV when we should have been paying attention to each other in the moment! My goal is to take advantage of the incredible blessings of access to light and truth and beauty through technology without letting it steal my ability to focus on what matters most in this very moment.
I Long for Clarity—and Charity
I read a novel about a teen-age girl who always resented the fact that her brother, who died when she was two, was the hero in the family. (The Secret Journal of Brett Coltin) She felt eclipsed, unimportant, resentful. She later found this brother’s journal (written to her) and found out that she, as a baby, had been his source of comfort and joy—the thing that gave him the courage to keep trying in the face of his pain and fear with the cancer that was killing him. This brother that she resented so much had adored her! That new knowledge transformed her thoughts and feelings. It was a vivid example that things are rarely as we think they are. I wonder if anyone in mortality really comprehends more than small glimmers of light and truth. We know so little. We all see through a glass darkly. I know I often make wrong assumptions, misjudge, and simply don’t see things as they are or people as they are. I don’t open my eyes and heart because of fear and defensiveness. Oh, what an amazing jumble I can make of things when I don’t see clearly and when I don’t act with charity.
To get to the root of the problem, I know I need a change of heart: I need natural man darkness driven out of my mind by the light of the Lord.
Alma 5:7 offers direction for achieving what my soul longs for: “Behold, he changed their hearts, yea he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word.” Only the Lord and the power of his word can change my heart, bring me from darkness into light, awaken me to all the things of God. Whenever I am in the midst of darkness, I must turn to the Lord and to the Light of His everlasting word.
I Long to Rise and Walk
In 1 Nephi 14:1-2 we read, “He shall manifest himself unto them . . . in power . . unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks.” It is not self-help books or workshops or counseling that take away stumbling blocks—but the power of Christ. (although His power can be manifest in any venue if the people involved are true disciples.)
Stan Winchester, after years of struggle to recover from the results of having been grossly abused as a child, said, “I know it is by the power of Christ miracles happen, but I have found it has often been “after all we can do.” When we have learned the lessons, had our faith tried, or fulfilled His purposes, then it seems these stumbling blocks are removed or sometimes they become stepping stones for us to move to higher ground. I think one of the most important lessons our Father in Heaven is trying to teach me is “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted . . . for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16). I am learning (slowly I might add) to accept my limitations and trust God knowing one day, whether in this life or the next all His blessings shall be mine.”
I have found inspiration in the life of a woman I know well who was in a wheelchair for nearly 18 months. She was totally incapacitated, yet the doctors could detect no physical malady. She finally learned that failure to use her own agency was holding her there! She was being “acted upon” big time, afraid to make a single decision without her husband’s approval. Once she chose God as her guide and was able to say, “God first. He wants me to do this, so you may like it or not, but He is my guide,” She rose and walked! She had power. She has done amazing things since.
I sense there is an application here. When I totally accept God as the guide of my life and free myself from all other voices, my energies that may be frittered away on anxiety and stress are freed up to do His will and fill my life’s mission.
I have prayed, “Oh Lord, let it be so! I long to be free of all other considerations. Free to fly. Free to live in the moment, free from fear, free to feel Thy guidance and have the Spirit to help me do what I need to do. I turn my life over to Thee. I ask for angel help. I ask the Spirit to lead me and help me do it all with joy!”
I return to the assurance in Psalms that the Lord will satisfy the longing soul. He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts. Whether here or hereafter, He will help us accomplish our righteous desires and become who He knows we can become.
I know the Lord is mindful of us and helps us fulfill our righteous desires. I experienced that reality as special people miraculously appeared in my life offering precisely the help that I needed at different stages of writing the book I referred to—a book that I know is part of my mission. All things truly do work together for our good, as the scriptures tell us. (Romans 8:28)
In my journal on April 17, 2005, I wrote, “At church today we sang the last two verses of ’Sweet Is the Work.’ I looked it up when I got home. The words were written by Isaac Watts, who died in 1748—but they spoke to me right now. These words, which refer to the next life, gave me just the reassurance I was needing that we are purposefully working here to expand our possibilities hereafter.”
Sin, my worst enemy before,
Shall vex my eyes and ears no more.
My inward foes shall all be slain,
Nor Satan break my peace again.
Then shall I see and hear and know
All I desired and wished below,
And every pow’r find sweet employ
In that eternal world of joy
Nothing could be more satisfying than that!
Note: Darla has been a professional writer and editor for four decades and has been writing for Meridian regularly since January of 2002. She is the author of Trust God No Matter What and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On. Visit her website darlaisackson.com to learn more about her books.