My family is going through a difficult trial right now involving potential legal and financial consequences. I have felt a measure of peace, but it gets pushed back. Is it normal for the spirit and mind to be in agreement, but then have the emotions stir up and try and create chaos and crazy thoughts? I am currently fighting a battle of the mind and spirit feeling and knowing peace, but the emotions stir up distrust and thoughts of “what-ifs” about the unknown future. Just checking to see if this is normal. I keep hearing and reading that I should “just feel it”, but when I feel peace, this crazy making starts. I don’t want to feel the stuff trying to break through the peace. At what point am I repressing feelings versus just going down a rabbit hole I did not need to? Is it a balancing of avoidance vs. faith? Or can they even coexist? Is avoidance Satan’s counterfeit for faith? Am I totally overthinking this?
First of all, I don’t automatically assume you’re overthinking this. You’re in a battle between your head, heart, and spirit that isn’t easy to manage. Thinking about all of this is a reflexive thing you’re doing to regain balance. It’s important to sort and analyze what’s happening in our interior, especially when you need to make important decisions. In fact, I’d rather see you run the risk of overthinking something rather than giving up and numbing out. You are working to reclaim the peace you’ve felt and your efforts are worth the energy you’re expending.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland validated how challenging it is to wrestle with these things when he said, “…The trials of life can be very deep and we are not shallow people if we struggle with them.”[i] I think it’s common to believe that if we were more faithful, we wouldn’t struggle with other emotions. I’ve certainly had moments where I believed that the prophets in the scriptures lived without fear, panic, and worry. I imagined that they lived above the very human emotions that seem to barge in when least expected. However, I simply know this isn’t the case.
For example, we find great comfort in the account of Joseph Smith incarcerated in Liberty Jail as he struggled with fear, hopelessness, and feelings of abandonment.[ii] We recognize ourselves in Nephi’s struggle to not let anger take him over after he’s left without his father.[iii] Even the Savior was described as a “man of sorrows” and needed comfort and reassurance from heavenly messengers when he asked to have the bitter cup taken from him.[iv] These examples of faith are not diminished due to the presence of overwhelming human emotions. If anything, their faith is what allowed them to feel both the pain of mortality and still look forward with trust in God.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were told that mortal conditions involved having “thorns and thistles” spring up out of the ground as they were trying to grow and harvest food.[v] I believe we experience an emotional equivalent to this when we try to plant and grow our faith, but find that the weeds of doubt, fear, anxiety, comparison, jealously, anger, and other annoying emotions find their way into our minds and hearts. In the same way that a gardener isn’t deemed a failure when weeds pop up in her carefully cultivated rows, you’re also not failing when strong negative emotions surface after you’ve received a peaceful answer.
Elder Holland reminds us that, “Opposition turns up almost anyplace something good has happened.” His counsel to us is clear:
Don’t panic and retreat. Don’t lose your confidence. Don’t forget how you once felt. Don’t distrust the experience you had…There may come after the fact some competing doubts and some confusion, but they will pale when you measure them against the real thing. Remember the real thing. Remember how urgently you have needed help in earlier times and that you got it.[vi]
While no one wants to wallow in miserable emotions, there’s great power in accepting that these unwanted emotions are part of our mortal makeup. There’s no need to believe that you’re bad or sinful just because you’re feeling these intense emotions. This acceptance allows you to stop turning on yourself, and, instead, turn them over to the Savior who will “strengthen [you], help [you], and cause [you] to stand.”[vii]
You’ve had peaceful reassurances that you can trust. You can also trust that there will be interruptions to that peace that can be surrendered to the Savior. The Great Plan of Happiness is possible because we co-exist with both joy and sorrow on this earth. It’s tempting to believe that because it’s a plan of happiness that we’re only living the plan correctly when we’re happy. In fact, we’re living the plan every day we feel the full range of emotions that draw us closer to our Savior and Heavenly Parents.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] D&C 121:1-6
[iii] 2 Nephi 4:17-19
[iv] See Isaiah 53:3 and Matthew 26:39
[v] Moses 4:23-24