Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Men are that they might have joy." But....

I think maybe someone needed to hear the message today about the joy of the gospel, because it came up an awful a several comments in Relief Society.

I had an interesting experience with those messages, though. I didn't feel the Spirit when I heard them.

But I know that isn't because what was said isn't truth. The gospel IS a message of joy. And I do think we can often benefit so much by looking for the joy in life. In fact, it's something I've been deliberately working on during the past few weeks as I've been struggling with some really bad days physically (which has led to some really hard days emotionally, mentally, and spiritually). I've made lists in my journal of the little things that have brought me moments of joy. But there's also been a lot of pain, fear, and exhaustion.

I can't even articulate what a blessing Relief Society was. I feel the lesson was an answer to prayer. The message was on adversity. I told the Relief Society president that she was God's mouth for me today. She quoted from numerous talks that have been anchor talks for me during the past several years of health issues. Elder Bednar has said that the timing of things can help us recognize tender mercies. I know that the lesson was a tender mercy for me today.

But when those comments about choosing joy were flying around, it was like my heart and spirit shut down. And at first, I thought it was a defensive reaction, and maybe part of it was.

But as I left the building, I had a quiet feeling that maybe it's simply because that particular message about joy wasn't the one God had for me today. I had the sense that He knew where I was, and what I needed. I needed to feel something before I could connect with the message about joy. And the Spirit let me know what *was* for me. I felt as though my soul was cleansed and renewed. I cried through most of the meeting (why do I keep forgetting to put tissues in my purse?), but that itself was part of the cleansing. A peace settled on me.

Still, the contrast I felt when the focus changed a little during the class was really striking. I could look across the room at another woman who was clearly not connecting with the joy message, either.

The reality is that sometimes life is hard. Really hard. Sometimes it's all we can do to just show up, to not give up. Sometimes it's hard to actually feel joy when you are in survival mode.

And I think that is ok. One of the talks that was quoted today was Elder Wirthlin's "Come What May and Love it." This was one of those talks that came at one of those times when I was feeling weary and battle-worn. I'm ashamed to say I resisted the message, thinking it was a bee-boppy kind of talk that was for those optimists out there who never seem to struggle. (Why do we resist the simple truths when we are hurting? Maybe it's because that's just not the message we need right now?)

But oh, was I wrong. Listen to these tender words:

How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t—at least not in the moment. I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life.
If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness.
Yes, we are that we might have joy. But that joy is something that often comes as we learn to weather the storms with faith. Joy can come through the process of learning to see the growth that comes of struggle. Joy can come from becoming acquainted with God in our grief. And sometimes we don't quite see that all in the middle of it all.

Another quote that came to mind for me today was this from Elder Holland:

[I]t is not without a recognition of life’s tempests but fully and directly because of them that I testify of God’s love and the Savior’s power to calm the storm. Always remember in that biblical story that He was out there on the water also, that He faced the worst of it right along with the newest and youngest and most fearful. Only one who has fought against those ominous waves is justified in telling us—as well as the sea—to “be still.” Only one who has taken the full brunt of such adversity could ever be justified in telling us in such times to “be of good cheer.” Such counsel is not a jaunty pep talk about the power of positive thinking, though positive thinking is much needed in the world. No, Christ knows better than all others that the trials of life can be very deep and we are not shallow people if we struggle with them.
(Oh, how I love our dear leaders!)

But I also love this reminder about how to stay on the path to joy. That deep kind of joy that comes of enduring trials, and enduring them with faith.
But even as the Lord avoids sugary rhetoric, He rebukes faithlessness and He deplores pessimism. He expects us to believe!
Just in my prayers last night, I cried out, "Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief."

He helped me, and I am grateful.

And because of that, I'm able to feel a little more joy tonight.