Stephanie writes

I am writing to you because my testimony is just dangling by a thread. When I was younger (I'm nearly 39 now), it seemed that following God was a protection. If I needed him, he was there. If I had a problem, he helped. I went on a mission, got married in the temple, graduated from BYU, and now have five kids. Until recently I was the stake Relief Society first counselor and my husband was on the high council. We have served in every single calling we have been asked and they have usually been very time consuming. We pay our tithing and give a generous fast offering and go to the temple and have Family Home Evening. And my life is falling apart.

If you're wondering, it's not because of sin. We've had some situations completely out of our control, including (but not limited to): a child who has exhausted all treatment options with brain cancer; a grandchild who died in a car accident; a chronic illness that makes my regular work impossible at times; company executives at my husband's work who embezzled money, meaning we lost all our retirement and a few months later, the company closed, leaving us unemployed for nearly a year; our one running car hit and totaled by an uninsured driver; a house fire that destroyed most of our scrapbooks and photos. That's just the abbreviated list of problems.

A few years ago I would have told someone in my position to have more faith. So that's what I tried when things starting unraveling. I was more dedicated. But the more I study, the more I see that it doesn't matter. I am convinced that our God is a God of whim. He saves some good people, and lets others die. He gives some miracles and others nothing. He allows evil people to win and succeed. He makes sure his eternal plan is never foiled, but the rest of it is just up to chance and we are left to sink or swim.

You need to know that I believe in God. I know he exists. I know that he can do anything. I just don't think he will. At least not for my family and not for me. Unless he feels like it. And for the past many years he hasn't felt like it.

So I guess I can have solid faith in the fact that if I endure I will have some kind of eternal reward. But I have no faith that this life will be anything but misery unless I get really lucky.

I know bad things can happen to good people. But is there no protection? No boundary? Does righteous living mean nothing? Is Satan the only one who rewards his servants?

Please don't throw some scriptures in my face. I've read them over and over and over. Don't tell me about Job. I know that eventually everything turned out great for Job, but his wife and kids were dead. And the way things have been going here, I feel that God cares about my happiness about as much as he did for Job's first wife.

If you do have something that can give me hope, I'll be reading.

Kathy says:

Steph, I am glad you decided to write to the Circle. Sometimes God seems just too far away.

When you are tired of trying to find solace in scripture, buddy up with Robert Frost, who felt the same frustration with the impenetrable veil.

Choose Something Like a Star
by Robert Frost, 1947

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

I like the advice to “choose.” We all come down to that. A lot of people choose to “stay their minds” on religious faith, and a lot of people don't. It's a very private, individual thing.

Your life has battered you into an intellectual and spiritual corner. It's when we are in agony that we are forced to grope within for “something like a star.” If your faith comforts you, that is enough. You don't have to work out a thousand page mathematical proof. The comfort is proof enough. But if you feel like your youthful faith has hung you out to dry in light of the way your life has unfolded, that doesn't mean you are lacking anything spiritually.

It means you are searching. Maybe you are even hungering and thirsting after righteousness. No matter how painful it is to feel that aching emptiness, it's actually a good sign. Hunger is the harbinger of healing. It is a strong and reliable natural drive. We know we're on the mend when we start to feel hungry again.

Don't make it any harder, Steph. Cut yourself as much slack as you possibly can, in every area of your life.

I wish I were Oprah and could come swooping in with a few million bucks to help restore the small part of your losses that are replaceable. Far more, I wish I could reverse the rotation of the earth like Superman and undo the losses that can never be restored in mortality.

These are fantasies. Reality is whatever small comfort you might take from reading these words this minute. I wish it could be more.

Alison says:

Stephanie, I'm crying with you and praying for you. May God give you the light at the end of the tunnel that you so need to see.

Tracy says:

You've certainly had more than your “fair share” of trials, Stephanie. I think that's something we all ponder from time to time. Why do some people seem to have crisis after crisis after crisis in their lives while others don't? Why are some people tested so much and others aren't, or at least not to the same degree?

I wish I could explain it but I honestly can't. I don't know the answer to that one.

It would be really easy to say “there must be opposition in all things”, but that still doesn't really explain anything. We all have to be tested in this life. We all have trials and struggles. We all face opposition and adversity in our lives. But all the trials and tribulations aren't equally divided among God's children. It's not like we each get a house fire, a bounced check and a debilitating disease that we can check off on an official list of prerequisite tribulations before the Heavens can finally proclaim that we've been tested enough. Some people really do suffer much more than others through their lives and I just don't have the knowledge to explain the reasoning behind it. I do trust however, that Heavenly Father knows.

Going on the assumption that much of your question was venting, and understandably so, I'm guessing that you don't really believe that Heavenly Father let Job's wife die because He ‘didn't care about her” or her happiness. He allowed all but one of the Savior's apostles to be killed. He allowed His own Son to be killed. He allowed Joseph Smith to be tortured and persecuted almost endlessly. He allowed Joseph's children to die one after the other, then He finally allowed him to be murdered. He allowed hundreds to die crossing the plains, many of them children. Surely, those saints were giving everything they had for the building of the kingdom, yet he allowed them to suffer so greatly, then took their children. They were some of the most choice of His children, so why did they have to suffer so much? Christ, His apostles, Joseph Smith, the early saints ?I suppose it wouldn't make you feel any better to say that you're in good company.

Clearly, the blessings of righteous living aren't necessarily guaranteed for this life, but for the next. Serving faithfully in our callings, paying our tithing, going to the temple and having Family Home Evening don't preclude us from losing a child, a spouse, a job, suffering from sickness, or even experiencing all of these. I know that you know this already, but still, you're yearning for relief.

It sounds to me like you're feeling “picked on” by God. You want to say, “I know I have to have trials, but why are You giving them to me one after the other, and why are they all these big, huge devastating ones?”

If it had just been the house fire, you probably wouldn't have written in. If it was just the struggle with your husband's employment then you wouldn't feel like your testimony was “hanging by a thread.” But it's the seemingly non-stop barrage of tragedy after tragedy that's left you feeling like you've been abandoned.

You asked if Satan is the only one who rewards his servants. I know you already know the answer to that one, too. He rewards his servants temporarily, and only here on earth, then they suffer for the rest of eternity.

Heavenly Father on the other hand, longs to give us an eternal reward. He allows us to suffer in this life to strengthen us and prepare us for the next.

Again, I can't explain why you're being tested the way you are, why you in particular are having to suffer as much as you are. But I promise you, you have not been abandoned.

I think when we are so weighed down and so emotionally exhausted, it's hard for us to recognize that He's there. The important thing is to NOT lose faith, and I know that's your struggle right now. And really, if you think of all the trials that you've been suffering through, and see them in the eternal scheme of things the trial of your faith is the biggest and most urgent one; more than your daughter's health, more than your husband's employment, more than the loss of precious photos.

My concern for you is that you'll allow this to pull you away, to lose your faith and your testimony. But you need those now more than ever. If you're barely hanging on now, think how hard it will be when you're no longer in tune with the Spirit,when He CAN'T comfort you and bring you some peace because you won't let Him in.

Let me tell you about someone close to me. This is all true.

“Beth's” husband became an alcoholic and left the church. Then he left her and their children. Then she lost a two-year-old grandchild in a drowning accident. Then, after her son's child died, that same son lost his job and his family had to move in with her, all seven of them. He was unemployed for almost two years. Another of her sons had become addicted to drugs and was homeless, living under a couple of the bridges in Provo. He was so violent and was in such bad company that had threatened her and her son's family that was living with her, that she couldn't allow him to live with her, and he spent all the money she gave him on drugs instead of getting hotel rooms. She bought him a bike so he could get a job and work, and he sold it for drugs. The police found him on the side of the road, unconscious and nearly dead. After six weeks in the hospital he was released and had a short “I'm going to change” period, but now he's roaming the streets again, and she doesn't know where he is most of the time. Then another of Beth's sons left his marriage to be with another woman, and now she hardly has a relationship with those grandchildren. Finally, her other son confessed to molesting his daughter from the time she was two until she was five, and went to prison. He's now registered as a child sex offender, and her six-year-old granddaughter is suffering the effects of her abuse. That was the last straw for Beth. She felt like God had totally abandoned her, and said almost the exact same thing you said.

“I was active in the church, even when my husband wasn't. I made sure my children knew the gospel and went to church. I paid my tithing. I went to the temple. I served faithfully in my callings. I studied the scriptures. And what good did it do me? Is this the reward I get?”

She was so angry she stopped reading scriptures. She stopped praying. She stopped going to church. She stopped paying tithing and going to the temple.

The tragic thing is, God didn't abandon her. She felt like He had because the trials kept piling up and things weren't getting any better. But He had been getting her through it. Even though she was barely hanging on, that's how she was hanging on! Then she abandoned Him.

Do you see the irony in your question to us? You feel like you can't find Hope in God, then ask us for something that can give you hope, as though we mere mortals have the power to give you hope that you believe God is purposely withholding from you. Yes, we ladies can be rather charming sometimes, but true hope comes from the one place you're beginning to turn away from.

I know you didn't want us to quote any scriptures, but I can't deny what keeps coming to my mind. My absolute, all time favorite scripture. It's short but powerful, and I'll be nice and let you “borrow” it.

“…Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”

Much love for you Stephanie. You'll be in my prayers, specifically and by name.