I recently went through a difficult spiritual slump. This type of struggle has been an on-and-off thing for me for much of my life. Although I have a burning testimony of the gospel, I sometimes slip into a mode where guilt, frustration, and inadequacy overwhelm whatever peace the gospel usually brings me. I feel almost like I’m living outside of my testimony — like I know the answers intellectually, but I can’t get my heart and spirit to absorb them. And that just leaves me feeling more inadequate because I know that I shouldn’t feel depressed because of my imperfections. Life becomes about ‘shoulds’ and it becomes burdensome.
Have any of you ever struggled in this way?
I guess this isn’t a new phenomenon; President Ezra Taft Benson talked about it years ago. He said:
We live, in an age when, as the Lord foretold, men ?s hearts are failing them, not only physically but in spirit….As the showdown between good and evil approaches with its accompanying trials and tribulations, Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression.
I spent much time in prayer, shed lots of tears. On our way to a family gathering earlier this week, I opened up to my husband about my pain, and we discussed the principles I know are true, but that felt so far away. God felt so far away.
I realized that part of my problem when I get into this mode may be that I forget about the true nature of God. Joseph Smith said:
[W]ithout the idea of the existence of the attributes which belong to God, the minds of men could not have power to exercise faith in Him so as to lay hold upon eternal life (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 4, p.41).
I think sometimes I get stuck in thinking that God is like an umpire, ready to ‘call me out.’ Or that unless I do things just right, He won’t bless me. Or that He is as hard on me as I am on myself. And of course, when I’m in this mode, nothing I do is ever good enough. It’s a miserable state to be in, and sometimes I feel like I can’t get out of it by myself. In fact, I know I can’t.
Clearly that’s not faith, and clearly I’d not been seeing clearly. Recognizing that and saying it out loud helped soften my heart a little. It felt good to acknowledge where my perspective might be blocking God’s light in my life, because I knew it couldn’t be His fault that I was feeling this way! (This was tricky, because it could be easy to stay in that depressed mode, but at the same time, it’s important to recognize when we are cutting ourselves off from God’s grace simply by our myopia, no?)
As we pulled off the freeway, we stopped at a light. I glanced at the car in front of me, and the license plate said:
Tears started streaming down my face as I said, “I’m going to take that as a sign.” The timing was just too perfect; here was a tender mercy reminding me of God’s loving nature, and of the power of His grace.
I could use the words of Elder Bednar here:
Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord ?s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them….
[T]he Lord ?s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Faithfulness, obedience, and humility invite tender mercies into our lives, and it is often the Lord ?s timing that enables us to recognize and treasure these important blessings (emphasis added; he repeated this message again later in the talk).
This tender mercy was the beginning of healing for me. It was humbling to sense that God was gently and lovingly reminding me that, yes, part of my problem was that I wasn’t trusting in His perfect love and grace and will. As is always the case, when I am willing to humble myself and open my heart to Him and however He wants to touch my life, He strengthens me to face my challenges (even if the specifics don’t change — see Mosiah 24:13-16), and I am more able to see and feel evidence of His loving hand in my life.
I write this in part so I can remember the next time I get into one of these ruts. God is always there, it’s just up to me to trust in His perfect love, His abundant grace, and His will and timing. As I turn my heart to Him in this way, I can feel His peace and power come into my life.
What kinds of things help you to tap into that peace when times are hard?