"O God, Where Art Thou?"


Life has been nonstop for the past two weeks, and as such, I have a lot of thoughts bopping around between my ears today.
I am a Mormon. This past week we celebrated in our church the 24th of July, which is when the early members of our church arrived in Utah after making the journey across the country in wagons and handcarts to escape persecution. Today I'd like to share, briefly, just one of the episodes of grief in the story of the early church and what it means to me.
In the early days, the Saints were driven from Jackson County to Clay County to Far West where they prospered for a time. Not only were they facing conflict from people outside the church at this time, but conflict was also found among the early members of the church and a few were excommunicated. 17 Mormon men and boys were slaughtered by a mob of 200 men in what became known as the Haun's Mill Massacre. A decree went out across Missouri that the Mormons were "enemies and must be exterminated." I could say, much, much more here but frankly it makes me sob.
Meanwhile, the prophet Joseph Smith was incarcerated in Liberty Jail, Missouri for nearly five months. It was a dank and dark dungeon with stone walls. The ceiling was so low that they couldn't even stand up straight, and the winter they endured there with no blankets and adequate clothing was record breaking for cold temps. The guards constantly harassed them and fed them poison on multiple occasions. Joseph described it as "hell surrounded by demons." They were suffering.
And it drove Joseph to the breaking point. He wept, "O God, where art thou?"
He wasn't just petitioning for himself, but for the early church. Don't we all ask God that question sometimes? Where are you? Why aren't you taking me out of this situation? Why aren't you taking away this illness? Why aren't you fixing this problem?

[Joseph in Liberty Jail by Liz Lemon Swindle]
And in that disgusting, rude prison, God answered.
"7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." [Doctrine and Covenants 121:7,8]
7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; [if thou shouldst be overwhelmed with financial struggles or asked to carry a physical impairment or burden, if thou shouldst be laid off from  a job or have thy family members in death or peril, if thou hast trouble conceiving a child or raising a wayward son...] and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
9 Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever. [Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-9]
Brackets added for emphasis and modern day application.
Now go back and re-read those verses. This time put your name where it says "my son." Remember, God wasn't just talking to Joseph here. He was talking to the Saints of His church, and that includes us too. Rest assured, God knows your name too and is so, so aware of the trials and struggles you are facing this very second.
In this talk found here, or you can watch it here, [which I HIGHLY recommend] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says that there are three lessons we can learn from Liberty Jail.
1. God has NOT forgotten you. Nor will He ever forget you.
2. The Savior has been where you have been. He is right beside you and will walk with you through it all.
3. We must live the Gospel even when it's not convenient. These trials you are called to endure will become sacred to you as you lean on the Lord.
He says, "As we think on these things, does it strike us that spiritual experience, revelatory experience, sacred experience can come to every one of us in all the many and varied stages and circumstances of our lives if we want it, if we hold on and pray on, and if we keep our faith strong through our difficulties? When you have to, you can have sacred revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in any situation you are in. Indeed, let me say that even a little stronger: You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced. Every one of us, in one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail—spiritually speaking. We will face things we do not want to face for reasons that may not have been our fault. Indeed, we may face difficult circumstances for reasons that were absolutely right and proper, reasons that came because we were trying to keep the commandments of the Lord. We may face persecution; we may endure heartache and separation from loved ones; we may be hungry and cold and forlorn. Yes, before our lives are over we may all be given a little taste of what the prophets faced often in their lives. But the lessons of the winter of 1838–39 teach us that every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through that difficulty. These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace."
So, not only are trials inevitable because of the world we live in, they are necessary for our growth. God could have swept in and taken Joseph and the early Saints out of sorrow and persecution. He could have saved them from every trial they faced. He is all powerful. But He didn't. Because-- I'll say it again-- trials are necessary for our growth. If Joseph had been spared from the trial of Liberty Jail, he would have known God's power to deliver him from difficulty, but he wouldn't have experienced God's power to deliver him IN difficulty. That is a whole new level of power. That is a whole new level of faith. And as we turn to Him in these difficulties, they can become something sacred to us in bringing us closer to Him.
My Liberty Jail that I carry with me is mental illness. I have struggled throughout my life with severe depression, anxiety and was diagnosed recently with PTSD. It is an ongoing sorrow and trial for me, but I have grown in ways I would not have otherwise. My faith is deeper and my foundation is stronger. I know myself and my God better. Look at what I would have missed if I had been spared this great burden! I would have missed all the miracles I have seen, all the earthly angels that have ministered to me, a deeper relationship with God, and the person I've become. It was necessary for me to pass through this trial... and still continue to fight it. It is ONLY when I lean on Him that I can endure it... and endure it well.
I know He knows my name. I know He is aware of me. And I know that for you too. Lean on Him through it all and He will give you the strength to endure. Keep your chin up and know that someday you will look back with gratitude for what you've experienced.
God will be your light in the darkness as you seek Him. That is His eternal promise.
And we know that when God makes a promise, He always keeps it-- if we do our part.
Trust in Him! And be strong.

Mischief Managed.

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