The Book of Mormon is another book of ancient scripture, a companion to the Bible. We have the stories of God’s dealings with ancient peoples in the Old World in the Bible, and we have more about His dealings with scattered peoples from the house of Israel who were led to the Americas in the Book of Mormon.
The book begins with the story of Lehi and Sariah and their family. Lehi was a prophet in Jerusalem around 600 B.C. (around the time of Jeremiah), and people were plotting his death because he was preaching about the destruction that was coming (destruction that we know actually happened, historically speaking, after Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and destroyed the city and the temple ca. 589-587 B.C.)
But the people in Jerusalem weren’t the only people plotting Lehi’s death. Two of his own sons, Laman and Lemuel, who reluctantly followed their parents out of Jerusalem, did not believe in Lehi’s prophecies, and constantly wished for their life back in Jerusalem (even though Lehi had seen, once they left, that the city had indeed been destroyed).
Nephi, who writes the record of his family’s experiences, was the younger brother. He received his own answers and confirmations of the truth of what Lehi was teaching and doing, and so he tried to help his brothers see and understand. But repeatedly, they rejected what they both saw and heard (including angels).
Nephi says this to his brothers at one point:
Ye are aswift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an bangel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were cpast feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder. (1 Nephi 17:45)
It’s pretty easy for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to roll their eyes a bit at Laman and Lemuel, but I think there something for each of us in their story. Even though this family actually existed and this is a story of their lives, as is often the case with scripture, there is also archetype in the story.
As humans and spirit children of heavenly parents, we all have a divine spark in us that wants to follow light and truth (like Nephi wanted to). As struggling mortals, we also all have a part of us that wants comfort, ease, control, or other not-so-good things as a way to get through the hard stuff of life.
As I recently contemplated the above verse, I realized that the archetype can also capture elements of our mortal experience that may not always be about willful rebellion but could relate to struggles that are just part of what it means to be human, to be fallen creatures in a fallen world.
Take anxiety and depression, for example. A friend of mine named Wendi recently shared in a podcast about her struggle with bipolar disorder. She says,
There’s a spiritual dynamic of depression that people don’t always know about. It’s almost as if there’s like a force field around you where it’s very hard to feel answers to prayer. It’s very hard to feel the Spirit, it’s very hard to feel anything light, or good, or spiritual. That’s the most tragic part, I think, of depression is that the thing that can help most is sometimes the thing you can feel least.
Consider the pain of grief as another example. Words can’t really capture the examples I’ve encountered, particularly of friends who have lost children, but grief…grief can put one in a place where feeling God just isn’t possible for a time, and sometimes for a long time. A body and brain in trauma sometimes just have to do what they have to do to process the trauma in very temporal, sometimes tedious ways before the light of God’s peace can break through again.
I’ve also watched hundreds of women experience betrayal trauma (work here led me to create a separate space for such women, as their cries for help via internet searches stretched far beyond the confines of what this website was created to be). As I have walked with women suffering from intense, PTSD-like symptoms, they, too, often will start that journey of healing first in a place where they cannot feel God. They wonder where He could be in such agony. Sometimes they experience anger toward God. “Why would He have guided me to marry this person knowing that I would be betrayed?”
In other words, channeling the language of the scripture above, sometimes one can struggle with mental or emotional or relational wounds or illness, or other life struggles, that can inhibit one’s ability to feel God and His words and His truth.
I recently read a book [The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints**] that talked about how even just the pure overload of life stresses can leave one feeling past feeling — enough so that some may even doubt that their faith or experiences with God were ever even real at all.
Compounding the struggle for some can be a sense of self-doubt on top of it all which can look something like this: “What am I doing wrong? I must be doing something wrong because I can’t feel the Spirit. I can’t feel God’s love.” Or perhaps worse is the guilt of being angry at God in the process of experiencing grief, pain, or traumatic injuries (physical or emotional).
Perhaps you have walked your own Via Dolorosa that looks different from the above examples, but that has similar effects of leaving you feeling numb. Past feeling.
I have tasted some of that walled-off-from-heaven feeling many times in my half century of life. I have struggled with anxiety and dysthymia (persistent but low-level depression) for most of my life, and have also had a couple of pretty major depressive phases that left me feeling a bit like I was walking through a tub of tar.
During one of these difficult times, I told a bishop (leader of our local congregation) that I felt like I was living behind a glass wall. I could see things that were real and true in some sense. But I struggled to feel God’s love for such stretches that I felt like I was living in another space, separate from what I believed and knew to be true. It’s like it all felt true for others, but I couldn’t get past the glass to feel it again myself. I’ve also felt that proverbial “my prayers aren’t getting past the ceiling” feeling more times than I can count.
As I’ve gotten older and had more experiences with the ups and downs of my struggles with mental illness and other challenges — and even just with the ebbs and flows of life — I am more able to walk through these times knowing that the feeling may not always be there in the moment, but I can still find ways to find God.
I started this site years ago because I have such a firm belief in God’s love, and His love for women. He knows me, He knows you. He knows the number of hairs on our head (or those we people may have lost). He knows the number of tears we have shed. He knows of the sparrow’s song and its fall. He knows the prayers we speak and those we cannot utter (see Romans 8:26).
But when I cannot feel these truths, I look for tender mercies — because I can see them. They are tangible, even when I can’t feel God in any given moment or period of time.
I’m grateful for David A. Bednar who first helped me understand that I can treat such “coincidences” as real evidence of God’s awareness of me. He repeated three times in his talk that it is often the timing of things that can help us identify something as a tender mercy. When it just seems too coincidental, or when the universe seems to be lining things up in a perceivable way (some call this sychronicity), that can be a tender mercy of God at work.
Take bluebirds as a simple example. The string of stories is too much to share here, but suffice it to say that bluebirds are one way that God says, “I am here.” The painting at the top of this post was given to me by my daughter to remind me of this simple way God shows up for me. Tender mercies can include running into someone at just the right time, having patterns and themes of ideas or principles cross my path repeatedly in a short period of time, reading a scripture or having someone say something that was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. Tender mercies are like God telling me, as Elder Tai said as he shared his own tender mercy memory in April 2020: ““I am here, and I know where you are. Just do your best, for I will take care of the rest.”
The more I look for and pray for eyes to see tender mercies (and record them, wherever possible), the more I have stored up for the wilderness times when I my feelings are clouded with anxiety, fear, self-doubt, or other emotions. Of course, I continually try to use tools I have learned to foster good mental health, but my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health improve when I am seeking to practice gratitude and to look for and acknowledge tender mercies in my life. I’m often so delighted — even shocked — by what I see that I sometimes call tender mercies delightful surprises!
What helps you hold onto faith during hard times when it may be to feel God’s love?
**I received nothing for mentioning this book. I’m sharing because it was a helpful book for me to read. 🙂