Kurt is somewhere around middle age. He has been married to his sweetheart for 22 years. They have three amazing children doing the mission and married thing. Though Kurt was aware of his SSA from his teens he didn’t start looking at this challenge until the age of 44. He thought he was in the middle year of his life and wanted the second half to be very different than the first half. Kurt acknowledges working through his challenges around SSA was the thing that brought into consciousness and out of the fog of a very limited life. SSA to Kurt has become more of parable that contains amazing truths just waiting to be discovered and not something to keep beating his head against. See Kurt’s previous guest post “I Am Not Special.”
My youngest son, when he was around four years old, was asked in primary to share something about his parents. After thinking for a few seconds he said, “Well my mom likes to sing in the shower and my dad beats me with a belt.” Life requires us to understand what is true and to understand what it is that brings us ultimate fulfillment. (And if you where wondering, my wife does sing in the shower and no, I don’t beat my kids with a belt.) Jesus, in talking about truth, tells us in John, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It would seem that truth and freedom are synonymous.
We as Latter-day Saints are showered with truth. We have the scriptures; we have modern day revelation; we are taught truth in our meetings, in our homes and in the temple. With all this truth around us, why is that we still can find ourselves feeling tempted, and at times despairing and weak? It would seem that the tricky part of truth is that for it to do any good, it has to permeate our hearts. The more pure our hearts are, the more receptive to truth they seem to be. And the more receptive to truth the more freedom we have.
Have any of you looked in your hearts and wondered why, after all your efforts, after all your years of service, reading the scriptures, praying and fasting, there still seems to be a portion of your heart that contains some darkness that does not’t seem to go away? If we read about Nephi we realize that we are not alone in this, In 2 Nephi 4:16-19 we read,
“Behold my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the thing which I have seen and heard. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart excaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins.”
I have always been moved by Nephi’s brutal honesty. I have felt the same way so many times in my life. It would seem no matter how well I seem to be doing spiritually, I am always aware of some wretched part of my heart that in spite of all my best efforts remains unchanged.
I had a dream a month or so ago that had a profound effect on me. In the dream I am seeing deep into the depths of my heart. What I see is complete blackness. I want to be rid of the blackness so I reach down with my hands and try to pull it out. As I reach into the blackness my hands and arms are dissolved as though the blackness was made of acid. I pondered a lot about the dream, wondering why, like Nephi, we seem to be given a portion of our heart that we are unable to remove on our own, but its very presence causes us to sorrow and grieve. What I began to understand, is that this, in the end, is a great gift to all of us, for if we could remove this portion of our heart by ourselves we would not need God. It is the thing that ultimately drives us to our knees and causes us to know that without a Savior this darkness will remain in us.
As I continued to ponder the dream, the Spirit whispered to me that this dark portion of my heart was the tithing portion. This didn’t make sense to me. Why would God want this part of my heart, this dark, swampy place of real estate that I have tried to ignore and deny was even there? Wouldn’t He want the nice part with the stream running through it, with the cultivated fields and nice farm house? As I continued to ponder this question, I had the impression of what God can do with this part of my heart. I thought of the stagnate, disease ridden swamps that where drained and from which the city of Nauvoo rose from. I thought about the temple that was ultimately built in that city where the Lord and His angels delighted to come and speak.
Maybe this is why God want us to tithe this part of our hearts to Him, so He can show us that there is nothing too hard for Him. That He can take what we feel is the worst of us and He can make it the best part of us. That He can transform it into Zion, the place where the pure in heart dwell (See D&C 97:21; D&C 101:18). Maybe it is to help us literally see that Christ descended below all things, even our things in order to transform and purge the darkness from us and fill us with light. As we come to a place of surrender, humility and trust, and freely deed over this tithing portion of our hearts, without any conditions, God’s kingdom is literally expanded.
I have clearly seen this part of my heart as-of-late. I have prayed and deeded it over to God without preconditions. In prayer I said, “Even though I am amazed that You want this part of my heart, I tithe it to You. It is Yours to do as You desire.” I was driving down a street last week and looked over at a couple of old California bungalows. Around the bungalows a chain link fence had been placed and on the fence was a sign that read, “Work in Progress.” It was impressed on me by the Spirit that God had taken ownership of the tithing portion of my heart and had started to transform it. It will be exciting to see what God makes of it.
When I look out at the beginning of each new day, I want the faith to wait patiently upon the Lord. This for me means that I no longer question if he will show up but only look in anticipation on how and when He will show up. Fear has always been my biggest obstacle in doing this, those second thoughts and returning doubts. Elder Holland tells us, “Of course our faith will be tested as we fight through self-doubts and second thoughts.” He then goes on to say, “Some days we will be miraculously led out of Egypt—seemingly free, seemingly on our way—only to come to yet another confrontation, like all that water lying before us. At those times we must resist the temptation to panic and give up. At those times fear will be the strongest of the adversary’s weapons against us.” He continues with the counsel “that after you have paid the price to feel his love and hear the word of the Lord, go forward. Don’t fear, don’t vacillate, don’t quibble, don’t whine. You may like Alma going to Ammonihah, have to find a route that leads an unusual way…Nobody had ever crossed the Red Sea before, but so what? There’s always a first time. With the spirit of revelation, dismiss your fears and wade in with both feet.”
So what gives us the strength to stand in the truth? Is it something we have to do alone?
I was sitting in church a while ago when I felt this surge of negativity hit me squarely in the back. I felt this hand on my shoulder and immediately the negative feeling left me. In my mind’s eye I could see the Savior standing behind me. The Savior was turned from me, looking at a large swirling black mass which He was keeping at bay with His hand thrust out toward it while His other hand remained on my shoulder. His light did not allow the blackness to pass. I also became aware of the Savior standing in front of me. He was looking toward a gray mass of nothing; He had one hand placed on my chest and the other thrust out in front of Him, which didn’t allow the gray nothing to engulf me. I also saw the Savior on my right and left, standing shoulder to shoulder with me, anchoring me in the present. I could see a group of angels encircling me. The angels where facing outward with drawn swords. A light was streaming down from heaven and flowed into me.
No we are not alone in this. We are protected from getting lost in the cares of the world, in not getting engulfed by the past and being able to, be fully present to life. We have the promise of ministering angels and the Holy Spirit as our guide.