Sunday, January 31, 2016

How Have I Built a Personal Relationship with Heavenly Father and the Savior?

Today I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting.  I'm grateful I had the opportunity.  Here is the full text of what I shared in church today (well, minus 5 minutes of ad-lib testimony because I needed to fill more time.)

My topic today is “How have I built a personal relationship with Heavenly Father and the Savior?”

President James E Faust said that having a personal, ongoing, daily, continuing relationship with the Savior “can unchain the divinity within us, and nothing can make a greater difference in our lives as we come to know and understand our divine relationship with God.”

This divine relationship with God is explained in the Family Proclamation. Each of us “is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father.”

This is amazing and awe-inspiring doctrine. I am literally a daughter of God. He is my Father. And learning from the example of my own father's love for me, and my husband's love for our children, that tells me that Heavenly Father loves us with a perfect love that won't end. He loves us so much and wants nothing more than for us to be close to Him, to talk to Him, to learn to be great like Him, and one day live with Him again.

Of course, regaining that close personal relationship that we once had with our Heavenly Father and our Savior is made difficult by the veil that was placed when we were born to our earthly parents. And so now, our task on this Earth is to learn to be faithful and make a daily choice to come closer to Him.

Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “anything that does not draw us closer to God takes us away from Him. We have no middle ground, no foggy gray area where we can sin a little without suffering spiritual decline.”

I see it as if we're on a slow moving escalator, trying to walk up the down side. When we make right choices (like the classic Primary answers: study scriptures, pray, obey commandments, give service, repent, etc) then we're taking steps up. And obviously sin is stepping down, or backwards. But what about complacency? If we're not actively moving forward, then we're being carried down and away from Heavenly Father.

It's like any relationship. If we don't work daily and make active choices to positively impact that relationship and draw closer, it is so easy to drift away and lose emotional intimacy.

Like I said, because of the veil, moving forward and building a personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus requires faith. Moroni 10 teaches us that “exceedingly great faith” is a gift of the Spirit. Some of you have received this gift. And some of us have to work a little harder to gain it.

I grew up in the Church and so had learned the gospel since I was little. As I grew older and started working to gain a testimony of my own, I never really questioned the doctrine that I had been taught. It all seemed so logical to me. Everything made sense. And furthermore, I had received on several occasions the powerful and undeniable witness of the Holy Ghost of the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

However, in the last few years we have watched as a couple friends and associates have chosen to leave the church. The world is in so much turmoil and Satan is so good at finding our doubts and weaknesses and then twisting them around and using them against us. In trying to understand why they would choose to step away, I've read many of the arguments of the groups and people that they sympathize with online. They have a logic to them, too. And so I've been forced to reevaluate my own beliefs and testimony.

Reconciling doubts with faith has been a struggle in the back of my mind lately. Then a couple weeks ago I was reading the Janurary Ensign as I pondered this. Yes, I have had personal spiritual experiences and revelations in the past, but how can I know the true source . Doubt can so easily explain away or dismiss faith-building experiences.

And so, as I read the Ensign I read some good stuff, but nothing Earth-shattering. Then I casually flipped through the pages, lightly skimming the paragraphs in search of something interesting. As I did, I suddenly and totally unexpectedly felt what I know to be the Holy Ghost. And I heard repeated over and over in my mind, “This is Truth. This is Truth.” I couldn't help by cry. That's what I needed at that moment.

I'm grateful to know that my loving Heavenly Father was aware of my situation and sent the Spirit to testify to me at that moment and help me stay on track. I know that He is always aware of us, our struggles and our needs. And I think that if I hadn't been doing my part in building a personal relationship with Him (by pondering doctrine, praying, reading the words of the Prophets) then I wouldn't have been open to that special revelation.

As baptized and confirmed members of the Church, we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost, meaning that we can have that constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, that's so important in helping us build and maintain a personal relationship with Heavenly Father.

David B. Haight said that “to feel of the Spirit we must experience a change in our hearts.” I'd like to share about a time when I experienced a profound change of heart. I've shared about this before in different contexts, so maybe some of you remember.

Several years ago I went through a huge trial. It was my refiner's fire. A loved one was struggling with an addiction. And I was being codependant. That means that just like my loved one's mood and actions were tied to their addiction, my mood and actions were tied to my loved one. If my loved one was doing well, then I was happy. If my loved one was doing poorly, then I was a wreck. I felt like I wouldn't have peace until this person changed.

A book that I love called Hold On to Hope says, “codependency occurs when a person becomes so focused upon or preoccupied with working out another person's salvation that his or her own salvation becomes neglected and jeopardized.” This is what was happening to me. During this time, I was just a bundle of anxiety and depression and was completely preoccupied with worry, fear, low self esteem, and other unhealthy codependent thought patterns and behaviors. I thought if I could just get this person to repent and overcome the addiction, then that would solve everything. I thought I could save them. I took so much responsibility for the situation that I shouldn't have. It was not healthy. And it wasn't making a positive difference.

I was in utter despair. So many nights I cried myself to sleep. And since everything was tied into this unhealthy, codependent relationship, my other relationships were suffering. I especially was not being a very good wife or mother. But the relationship that suffered the most was with my Heavenly Father.

I was still attending church and serving in my callings. And I was still praying pretty regularly. But it was usually a desperate plea to God to just snap His fingers and fix everything. Now.

And then I hit my rock-bottom. Addicts have to reach a rock-bottom or breaking point where they recognize that the pain of the solution is less than the pain of the problem. At that point they will finally choose recovery. For codependents, it's the same. I started to know that I was at bottom when I realized that I didn't want to pray anymore. I knew that if I prayed for my loved one, the answer I would receive would be, “forgive.” And I didn't want to hear that. And I didn't want to do that. I wasn't willing to try that solution and so I chose to not pray.

Now I was really turning my back on God, my Father, the one who had the power to actually make a difference in the situation because I couldn't let go. When I realized that's what I was doing, I finally knew I had to make a change. And not a change in my loved one, but a change in myself.

I attended the Addiction Recovery Program and then the Spouse and Family Support Group and learned to apply the 12 Steps to my own life. The Addiction Recovery Program utilizes the well-known 12 Steps of AA, as applied to gospel principles. The 12 Steps changed my life. They work because they're a step-by-step way to apply the Atonement of Christ. And really, it's the Atonement that I needed to repair my broken relationship with Heavenly Father.

Moroni 10:22 says, “And if ye have no hope, ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.” Sure, my loved one needed to apply the Atonement, but more importantly, so did I.

In Step 1 I had to admit that I personally was powerless to overcome the addiction of my loved one and more importantly, that I was powerless to overcome my codependent weaknesses on my own.

In Step 2 I had to come to believe that the power of God could restore me to spiritual and emotional health.

In Step 3 I had to choose to turn my will and life over to God. I had to put my loved one in His hands. I had to come to trust that He knew best. I had to come to trust His timing. And I had to turn my focus back where it belonged, on my own salvation and my own relationship with Him. I used to think that I could drag my loved one up to heaven with me. But that's not how it works. I have to focus on making my own choices so that I can get there.

Then in Steps 4-10 I learned how to repent and apply the Atonement in my life.

Before, I felt like I was in this bottomless pit of worry, fear, depression, and other negative thoughts that I couldn't see any way out of. No matter how much I clawed at the sides, I was making no progress on my own. But with the help of my loving Heavenly Father who didn't give up on me, and the Atonement of my Savior and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Ghost, I was finally able to climb out.

D&C 101:16 says, “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted...for all flesh is in mine hands, be still and know that I am God.” This is what applying the 12 Steps and the Atonement did for me. I was comforted. I had hope again. I had joy. And it didn't matter as much anymore what my addicted loved one chose to do. I could choose to respond in a healthy way and stay focused on what I needed to do to improve myself. I felt free.

I had received this important change of heart by studying the gospel, praying sincerely, and repenting. I was back on the path, on that escalator, stepping forward toward my Father in Heaven.

President James E. Faust said, “We should earnestly seek not just to know about the Master, but to strive, as He invited, to be one with Him.”

I bear my testimony that this is Christ's true church, that has the fullness of the Gospel. I know that God is the Father of my spirit and that He loves me and wants me to return to be with Him. I know that Jesus Christ died for me, so that I could improve daily and become closer to my Heavenly Father. I have felt the Holy Spirit testify of such to me. And my life is enriched by it. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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