Monday, June 11, 2012

Then and Now

A friend recently shared her testimony of the LDS church with me. Among other things, she mentioned a very trying time that she had gone through, and shared that without the help of the LDS church and modern day revelation she doesn’t know how she would have got through it. I was honored that she would care enough to openly share a very trying time in her life with me. I’m old enough now to know that trying times come to all of us—no matter how “good” we are, and no matter how blessed we are with things like a good marriage, coming from a good family, or even financial blessings. The simple fact is that life is going to challenge us in some way.

Before I knew Christ, life’s challenges were tough to deal with. One of my first big challenges in life happened when I was still living “in the world” and honestly, I didn’t handle it very well. I got angry and carried a chip on my shoulders for years afterwards. This anger affected everything I did, even, I'm sad to say, my marriage and family.

Another of life’s big challenges happened when I was LDS, and as my friend pointed out, it was easier to handle: I had supportive friends and family, and most of all I had some kind of relationship with God where He comforted me, held my hand, and helped me through. Anger, depression, and fear though were still a large part of my life as I grappled with my failures, and the failures of others. I really had no peace, or joy in my life, just a sense of obligation to do my best, and hope it was good enough.

Life hasn’t been all smooth sailing since then either. I’ve said more than once that coming out of the LDS church was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Steve’s being sick for the better part of a couple years was another of those hard times. The difference though between then, and now is God—the Holy Spirit within me.

Scriptures say that the fruits, or the outcome of the Spirit is peace, joy, love, self-control, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Fruit by its very nature cannot happen unless other things happen on the tree. For instance, a tree that’s been cut down will not produce fruit. Likewise, a tree that doesn’t get sun which enters the leaves and produces photosynthesis will not produce fruit. A tree deprived of water entering it through good strong roots also will not produce fruit.

When I think about my past trials these analogies seem to fit right in. In my first example of a challenge I had only the best in worldly things to fall back on: my family, my friends, my own self-confidence, and abilities. When I was still LDS I too had those things to fall back on, but also I had good sound teaching that included some of the very best advice that any man can give to another.

Now though, there is a difference. You see, earthly wisdom can only go so far—and can even be wrong. But, when I’m connected to the vine: the Holy Spirit in a daily walk with Him, there is a difference. I don’t react in the same way to these situations, no matter how hard they are. Things like peace, joy, love and such are not so easy to see. Deep down inside me, though, I know that these things are there, even in the midst of my hardest trials. 

Joy is one of those attributes that I experience daily. Joy comes, really, from having a right relationship with God, and knowing, really knowing, that I am accepted in Him, that I am His beloved, that I am who He wants me to be, and that He is making (re-making) me into who He wants me to be. It’s knowing that my salvation, really, is His work, and I just cooperate with Him in what He’s doing.

Before, however, I had to perform in order to earn the right to stand freely and opening  in God’s presence. So, when I failed, or when I fell down on the job, I experienced condemnation, fear, and depression.  It was also true, that if my husband, or children, or even friends failed to live up to God’s holy, and righteous standards I lost my right (hopefully not forever) to be in God’s presence. That was a tremendous burden to bear, and most people I know don’t bear it well.

Peace too comes from knowing God and knowing that I’m free to serve Him because He bore the penalty for my sins. It’s knowing that even when I do mess up (and I do all too often) He only asks me to come to Him, admit that I was wrong, and then move on as His dearly beloved daughter.

The Bible says that love originates from God—that we can’t even know love, or understand love, if we don’t know and understand God. It makes me wonder if that’s why so many relationships in my past life—even the best ones—were fraught with problems. I simply didn’t understand love, but instead understood a cheap imitation of love. 

I won’t go through the other fruits of the Spirit, but I do see God working out them in my life, and like the tree out my window, I’m just part of the process, soaking up the water, the sunlight, and most of all rooted and grounded in the Source of love, peace, joy, self-control, gentleness, kindness, forbearance, and self-control. What amazing grace, and amazing love!

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