26 February 2014

"Thus saith the Father"

When I was in the MTC, I remembering being at a fireside where the speaker said something I never forgot. It has always stuck with me because I knew in the moment that what he said wasn't true.

He was teaching us from 2 Nephi 31, and emphasized verses 15 and 20:

15 And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. [Emphasis mine]

He explained that Heavenly Father rarely speaks in the scriptures--and when He does it's strictly to bear witness of His Son, Jesus Christ. He taught that 2 Nephi 31 was the only place where God the Father wasn't saying some variation of "This is my Beloved Son." His goal for saying this, as far as I can remember, was to encourage us to treasure the words of God the Father. But why would a selectively mute God inspire anyone? Rather, we should treasure up every word that proceeds forth out of the mouth of God, with the assurance that his words never cease.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once taught on this very subject:

"After a sacred vision in a now sacred grove answered in the affirmative the question “Does God exist?” what Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints force us to face is the next interrogative, which necessarily follows: “Does He speak?” We bring the good news that He does and that He has. With a love and affection born of our Christianity, we invite all to inquire into the wonder of what God has said since biblical times and is saying even now."
My Words... Never Cease, April 2008 General Conference

Elder Holland's title for his talk comes from Moses 1: 4, a chapter in which God the Father is speaking to Moses face-to-face: "for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease."

Our Father in Heaven is the Origin of All Scripture

Those who struggle to find Heavenly Father in the scriptures do not understand what scripture is. Scripture is a record of God the Father's dealings with mankind. The moments throughout history in which He has spoken to His children, and called them to receive Him--this is scripture. By definition, we cannot call anything scripture unless God the Father is truly present in the story.

Christ Himself testified to this fact in John 14:

23 If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me. [emphasis mine]

Every word that Jesus spoke; where did it come from? They are the words of our Father in Heaven--no less literally than if He were speaking them Himself. It may be Christ's mouth speaking the words, but words themselves are the Father's. 

Every page of scripture we possess communicates the voice, the will, and the identity of God the Father. The purpose is always to help His children achieve salvation, and this is not a casual activity for Him. It isn't something he troubles Himself with only in the role of testifying of His Son, and otherwise resigning Himself to a silent acquiescence to everything going on around Him. God is an active, engaged character in the stories of the scriptures, even if He doesn't seem readily apparent. The challenge in beginning is learning to recognize Him.

I began my search with this mindset, but it still felt incomplete to me. It still left me feeling like God was a puppet master or an orchestrator. I craved to see references in the scriptures to words coming from God's own mouth. So I set about to find them, and the results were almost immediate.

How do we recognize God the Father speaking in the Scriptures? 

First off, it helps to be aware of the situation with Heavenly Father's name/title. When we see "the Lord God" in the scriptures, we need to understand this as a translation of Adonai Elohim (אֲדֹנָי אלהים) from Hebrew. When we see some variation of "thus saith the Lord God" in the scriptures, chances are excellent it's referring to Heavenly Father. Sometimes Jesus Christ uses this title as well, and the context will reveal when this is the case (see D&C 36, D&C 43, 2 Ne 6: 9, and 2 Ne 10: 7.)

It's very useful to know about this convention, because sometimes both the Father and the Son will be speaking in the same chapter. The titles "the Lord God" and "the Lord" will differentiate between the Father and the Son, respectively. (See 1 Nephi 21, 2 Ne 5 and Genesis 1 in the original Hebrew as examples.)

We also need to be aware of the instances which refer to the Father symbolically. Allegories and parables may not obviously mention Heavenly Father as a character, but closer examination with the Spirit testifies that Heavenly Father is speaking. (See Jacob 5)

With that in mind, we can now go searching through the scriptures for instances where God the Father speaks. Here is the list I've compiled so far:

  • All 8 books from Moses in the Pearl of Great Price (especially 4 & 7)
  • Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 50: 26-27
  • 1 Ne 21: 22-23
  • 2 Nephi 5: 21-23, 25, 30
  • 2 Nephi 26: 17-31
  • 2 Nephi 28 & 29
  • 2 Nephi 31: 15, 20
  • Jacob 5, the Lord of the Vineyard
  • Enos 1: 5
  • Alma 5: 50-51
  • Helaman 5: 29-33, 46-47
  • Helaman 10: 1-11
  • John 12: 28
  • 3 Nephi 10: 3-7
  • Hebrews 12: 26-27
  • Revelation 16: 17
  • D&C 1 (especially verse 38. This admonition makes the MOST sense when coming from our Father in Heaven.)
  • D&C 133 & 136
Here is a list of references in which God the Father bears testimony of Jesus Christ
  • Matthew 3:17
  • Matthew 17: 5
  • Mark 1: 11
  • Luke 3:22
  • 3 Nephi 11: 3-7
  • 2 Peter 1: 18
  • Joseph Smith History 1: 17
  • D&C 93: 15

I've only just begun my study on this topic. I'm sure there are many other references in the Bible where God the Father speaks to His children. I will continue to search and update this list as time and occasion permit me to do so. 

I know that God is our Father. I know He hears our prayers and answers them. What better way for Him to answer than to speak? And if the lives of men are consequential enough to be included in the scriptures, I maintain that the words of God Himself are even more essential.

The Church of Jesus Christ is restored to the earth. Joseph Smith truly was a prophet. He saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove. And the most remarkable thing about that moment wasn't that it was unique--it was the continuation of what God has done with countless other men since the days of Adam. He invites us all to hear His voice, and to return to His presence.


I don't know about you, but these are the words I'm most looking forward to hearing!

Have you come across any other scriptures where God the Father is speaking? Did you ever question something you were taught, and discover something new because of it? Leave it in the comments!

13 February 2014

Waiting for the Perfect Man

A letter to my unmarried sisters of the Church,

Let me begin by acknowledging that I do not know you. I cannot be aware of the many different struggles of your heart, as vast in their variety as they will be. But I will speak as best I can to what I know to be true, the affection I feel for you, and what I have observed so far of your journey.

I’m endeavoring to say to you what no one ever said to me when I was single, but what I think you would be blessed to hear in your present place. Quite frankly, I see too many of you unhappy and disappointed that your particular “happily ever after” has not yet come. It is an unhappiness you try to hide well, and you do as best you can.

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall 
strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
Psalms 27: 14

(Notice how it doesn't say wait on a man?)
But I want you to know that I see you, as plainly as I see others with all the crosses they have to bear. And I will not compare their struggles with yours—I believe such an action to be cruel and unfair. Your feelings, your pains are real. The loneliness and frustration you feel as you wait, work, study, fall in love, get hurt, and grow cannot be written off as something unimportant. Please don’t think me unwise or unknowing to any of these things. I’ve walked my own lonely version of what you are currently experiencing. It’s because of that experience, and my present circumstances as a recently married woman that causes me to write to you in this fashion.

I love my husband dearly. I have nothing but the sincerest love and admiration for him. He’s a good man, he treats me with all the respect I have ever wanted in a husband. Our life together is sweet, and our circumstances very blessed.

But is my happiness complete?

In all honesty, No.

Is it because of some failure on his part? Not at all.

And it’s only now we’ve been married nine months that I’m beginning to understand this reality.

I came into my marriage with the same expectation many of you have for yours. If you find someone loving, spiritually put together, a priesthood holder and a returned missionary whose virtue and fidelity are intact, your happiness will naturally follow. Because your lover and protector is all of those things, living the gospel will naturally follow. It all stems from the belief that because they live the gospel, total bliss and happiness will be achieved. It will not be the end of all troubles, but surely it must be the end of MANY of them—including the ones you dislike the most.

If only you could see now how totally wrong you are.

Marriage doesn't fix anything--it just adds more characters to the story. All the struggles you currently experience will still continue. In fact, you will receive additional pressure on top of them in ways you do not currently experience.

If you don’t work, your husband will work and you will never see him enough to completely put you at ease. Caring for a home by yourself can be incredibly dull and unfulfilling. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve been taught about the divinity of housewifery and motherhood—there is nothing rewarding or fulfilling about scraping grease out of the bottom of a casserole dish for the third time in a week. And no, there is nothing wrong with you if you struggle to find satisfaction in it. We’re all secretly thinking the same thing when we first start out.

If you decide to work, you’ll see your husband even less, and handle all of the complications that come with your additional obligations. I fit that description, and sometimes it’s more than a month before I’m in the same room with my husband for more than 2 consecutive hours. You’ll wonder when the right time is to bring children into the situation, but there never really is a right moment once you’re working. There’s always one more paycheck, one more project, one more presentation, one more thing to finish. That’s if you’re lucky enough to have children once you decide you want them. It doesn’t always work out that you can have them, at least not right away.

And whether you have children or not, it can feel so much like everything you’ve worked for up to that point is slipping away.

Bills. Debt. Saving. Responsibility. Adjustments. Massive overhauls. Organization. Cleaning. Cooking. Working. Working. Working. That is what marriage is, most of the time. Regardless of what type of work it is, paid or unpaid. Most of what you do in marriage is work. People tell you that a lot, but you really have no comprehension of what it means until you’re doing it. And if you end up like I did and asking yourself, “What have I done?” don’t worry. You’re just having a bad day. It will pass, and you will be all right.

Ladies, it's time to get off the bench!
But the thing I mentioned before, the thing no one told me when I was single that I’m telling you now: enjoy being single. Enjoy the horrible dates and the long nights, the homework, and the mornings to yourself. Enjoy each and every day where you can do exactly what you have the mind and means to do. If you want to go to school, go to school. If you want to travel, work hard and go as far as your dime will take you. If you want to be around children, heaven knows you can be useful in your wards and communities to change the lives of any sort of children you like. Take your pick.
If you are mourning the fact that you’re single, it’s because you doing it wrong. You’re failing to recognize two things about your own life: how much freedom you have to do what you want, and how much all of that is going to change once you have someone else to share it with. Savor each and every moment where you can pick the toothpaste you like and how to squeeze it out of the tube. The temperature of the room when you sleep, where to live, what to eat, where to go, and how you’ll get there. It will never be like this again, so enjoy it.

Your world begins long before you get married, and the quality of your life after marriage depends so much on how you spend your life when you are single.

I know you feel like your options are all closed to you because, “I just don’t want to get too tied down, because what if I get married?” Now that I am married, I realize now that this is the biggest mistake I made. I held back from living, from experiencing everything I could have each day, in the time and energy I wasted lamenting over something I didn’t have. I denied myself opportunities and attachments that would have kept me happy enough not to be lonely. All for the fear of having to give them up once I got married.

In hindsight, I recognize now that my life was not incomplete and empty because I wasn’t married. It was incomplete and empty because I was denying myself the ability to live my life and be happy. I was telling myself “No” when my world should have been full of “Yes,” or at least “Let’s Try!” I was the cause of my own unhappiness, which is a habit that will rob you of marital bliss if it continues. Trust me.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t make that mistake in the ways that mattered most to me. I went to school. I made friends who will be beside me until the grave and beyond. I served a mission in one of the most brilliant countries in the world. I had the time and space to learn something of myself—my own mind, my faults, my desires, and my strengths. I was not as consumed with marriage as I might have been. Perhaps that is why it pains me so much to see young women making the same mistakes I did, enough to want to say something—because I know they’re sacrificing even more than I did on the false alters of the Hypothetical.


Notice how it's NOT a Stop sign...

If you want to live your life with less heartbreak and sorrow, stop punishing yourself and calling yourself inferior because some lovely young man has not shown up yet. If you honestly think a man--an imperfect being full of faults and bad days and humanity--is going to give you everything you wanted in life all of the time, you’re setting him up for a lot of frustration and failure. It isn’t fair to him, and it certainly isn’t fair to you. You’ll be the one learning to let go, finger by finger, of those expectations in moments of bitter frustration later on.

Am I saying that marriage is terrible and ought to be avoided? Certainly not. It’s a beautiful way of life I am satisfied with enough to work for it as hard as I do. But I'm trying not to turn my marriage into something it was never meant to be. I need someone in addition to my husband to make me happy in my life. He needs me to depend on someone in addition to him to fill my search for joy in every waking hour. I can't be entirely dependent on him for every happy moment I ever have. I need passions and pursuits, other things and people to care about in my life. I need to be able to fill my own life with meaning and purpose.

I had been denying myself these sorts of pleasures for so long because I wanted to get married, I didn’t know what to do with myself once I achieved it. Life felt like it was coming to an end for me, when in actuality it was only just beginning. The feminists would call that a failure of my husband or my church or my society, but I call it what it truly is. The failure was me.

Rejoice in whatever place or circumstance you might be. Live with joy because you know how to meet the needs an desires of your own heart. Trust God enough to know that wherever you are, single or married, He is leading you to the place you really intend to go. He doesn’t love you less because you are unmarried. And even though it may seem at times that your friends and family are infinitely happier in their situations than you are in yours—no one’s walk from birth to death is without opposition. No one’s life is without trial. You only don’t see their burdens because they don’t WANT you to see them. But trust me—life gets HARDER for all of us after marriage, not easier.

I know God loves all of His children. He brings us each to the changes in our lives when we most need them, and not a moment before. When we live with trust continually, always believing in good things to come, we will never be disappointed in our circumstances. There will always be new adventures and opportunities just ahead.

Please be at peace, and if I don’t see you in a wedding dress sooner rather than later, be reassured that all is truly well.

Love and prayers,

Heather

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