Miriam is a PhD candidate in Prevention Science at the University of Oregon, mother of 3 girls, and striving to teach her girls that their voices matter.
This post was originally delivered as a Sacrament Meeting talk in Eugene, OR on March 13, 2022. Last time I spoke in church was 2017 and I caused a bit of turmoil among the ward members when I mentioned things like the sexism in the scriptures fits with the sexism in the history of the world (apparently we’re supposed to act like that sexism doesn’t exist or maybe we’re supposed to act like we like it? I’m not sure). Anyway, I went 5 years without being asked to speak until today. I don’t think I said anything controversial, but I guess I’ll find out if gossip ever gets back to me. Here’s the talk:
The World Population Review noted that, as of September 2021, the countries of Ethiopia, Yemen, Colombia, Myanmar, Syria, Libya and Mali are all engaged in Civil Wars. Algeria, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Tunisia are all engaged in wars caused by terrorism. South Sudan is at war due to ethnic violence and the Mexico government is fighting violent drug trafficking cartels (SOURCE).
Most recently, we’ve all been following the news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people working hard to defend their freedom.
We’re currently in the midst of a global pandemic where the official death count has surpassed 6 million people worldwide – and public health experts say that number is likely an undercount (SOURCE).
Our world is fraught with unfair inequality. About 9.2% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty (SOURCE). Structural racism threatens the lives and wellbeing of people across the world – including in our own community.
Climate change is causing natural disasters worldwide (SOURCE).
I could go on with depressing news – but I think we’ve got the idea, things are hard right now! I’m definitely not going to say things are harder than they’ve ever been – we’re currently reading the Old Testament for example! But we’re inundated with news regularly about how hard things are in the world right now.
And I didn’t even mention the personal problems that each and every one of us has in our own lives.
So what do we do about it? How can we get through these difficult times? How can we thrive through these trials? How can we try to leave the world a little better than the way we found it?
I was recently on a hike with a dear friend who is not religious. As we hiked, we began discussing the evils of structural racism in the world we live. She asked me how I process the difficulties in the world and she asked me if my religion helps me through that.
I paused, thinking. I realized that my relationship with God could help me get through difficult times (and it certainly has at various times), but sometimes – when it comes to thinking about these heavy issues, I worry that sometimes I allow myself to feel calloused toward suffering. I allow myself to scroll along without giving myself a moment to feel and to reach out to God.
However, I do know there’s a better way. I know that as we develop our personal relationships with God, God can help us to carry through hard times and can help us strive to make the world a bit better than how we found it.
When Joseph Smith was incarcerated in Liberty Jail in the aftermath of the 1838 Mormon War, he was, understandably, having a rough time. He recorded his prayer in what is now Doctrine and Covenants 121. He began his prayer by saying:
1 O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
I’ve never been incarcerated and don’t understand the exact feelings he must have felt in this moment, but I can empathize with his pain as he turned to God and asked “Where art thou?” As Joseph Smith poured out his soul to God – questioning the reasons for this hardship, God replied:
7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
The first thing I notice when I read that verse of comfort is the part about the afflictions being a “small moment”. A small moment? He was charged with treason, incarcerated, then fled Missouri and spent the rest of his life fearing extradition to Missouri. I’m sure that would be hard to think of that as just a small moment.
But God had said a few things before that – He’d said, “My son” – a reminder to Joseph Smith that he was assuredly a child of God. Then God said, “Peace be unto thy soul.” Essentially, God was saying, “You are my child, find peace in that and this problem won’t last forever.”
I wonder how that phrase can help me and you as we face hardships – remembering that we are God’s children and he wants to bring us peace. These problems are not eternal.
Sister Rosemary M. Wixom (the Primary General President in October 2015) said that because we are children of God, “Heavenly Father generously shares a portion of His divinity within us. That divine nature comes as a gift from Him with a love that only a parent can feel. We come to this earth to nurture and discover the seeds of divine nature that are within us.” (SOURCE).
Because we have this divine nature, it’s a chance for us to act – with divine love. As Sister Wixom went on to say, “Now it is time to take that beloved phrase ‘I am a child of God’ and add the words ‘Therefore, what?’ We might even ask questions such as these: ‘What will I do to live my life as a child of God? How can I develop the divine nature that is within me?’” (SOURCE).
So that’s the question for each of us – how can we actually feel that we are children of God in order to bring the peace into our lives that we desperately need? How can we really feel that our tribulations are but a small moment as we examine our lives from an eternal perspective?
I know there’s not a one-size fits all answer. I know there’s going to be different answers to that question for each person here and likely different answers depending on the moment in your life that you’re asking it. Perhaps it would be helpful to take a moment today to pause and ask yourself how you can feel that in your current situation.
Though I know I don’t have definitive answers, I have a couple experiences I’d like to share that have helped me to feel closer to God – and to feel that I truly am a divine daughter of Him and can seek peace through Him, even in this world full of trials.
I had an experience back in 2009 that is ingrained in my mind – a strong memory that has helped me remember that I am indeed a daughter of God. I was a missionary in Peru and was still learning Spanish. I was with a companion that I had a hard time relating to – the language barrier between us was likely compounding our difficult connection. And I was lonely. I was following the mission rules and working as hard as I could, but even though I was constantly with another person, I felt like I was completely alone. One day, as I knelt to pray, I began to cry. The tears covered my face as I just thought how lonely I was – missing all my friends and family members that were all on another continent. As the tears poured, I remember feeling (and I’m not sure how to better describe this) but I felt a hug from God. It was as if His love enveloped me and I understood that my feelings were normal and okay, but that I could still feel peace through God. I am His daughter and He loves me.
The thing that sticks out to me about the memory of this experience now – 13 years later – is that I didn’t have to do some ginormous act of heroism to feel that I was God’s daughter. I just knelt down and prayed. Sometimes I think it is easy to think that in order to feel our divine nature, we have to go wild and do something amazing. And while doing amazing things certainly has its time and place, sometimes it is much simpler than that. We just need to take the time to talk with God and He’ll help us feel His love.
Sister Jean B. Bingham (Relief Society General President) discussed how as individuals, we each are small and fairly insignificant, yet, just as I felt in that moment on my mission, God knows each of us personally and is ready to help us. She said, “From the darkest parts of Earth, the naked human eye can see about 5,000 stars; from a brightly-lit city street, only about 100 stars are visible. A few years ago, astronomers in Australia used some of the world’s most powerful instruments to calculate how many stars are actually in the entire visible universe. From their measurements, they concluded that there are 70 sextillion stars—or 7 followed by 22 zeroes—and some scientists say the actual count could be much, much bigger still. Does that make you feel small? Contemplating that incredible number fills me with a humble yet exhilarating realization that, among all that vastness, our Father in Heaven knows not only where I am but who I am and what I am thinking and doing and struggling with. And He knows everything about you, too, and loves you more than you can even comprehend. God’s capacity for knowledge and love is infinite; His interest is personal and intimate and real. You are valued by Heavenly Parents because you are Their offspring—Their reason for joy. Their purpose is our progress. After all, Their work and glory is to bring about our immortality and eternal life. Each individual is not only valued but essential in God’s plan of happiness.” (SOURCE)
How humbling to know that God values me. God values me as an essential person in His plan of happiness.
In another experience I’ve had over the last several years, I’ve been able to feel that God does value me as an essential person in His plan of happiness. Though this isn’t a dramatic moment like I felt on my mission, it’s been a learning experience growing closer to God over several years.
In 2014 my daughter Ivory was born and I had a hard time with postpartum depression. I didn’t feel the Spirit for at least a year.
In 2016, while I’m sure I was still reeling from the year of depression, and still struggling to feel the Spirit, I began to feel spiritually prompted to return to school and obtain my PhD. I felt the Holy Ghost tell me that I should pursue that path in order to create a career where I could better serve my community. I began studying for the GRE – the test I’d need to take before I could be admitted to a PhD program.
I remember feeling like God was helping me study. It was a beautiful experience as I studied for that test. I took the test and did well enough that I felt like I’d surely get into graduate school.
However, when I applied, I was rejected. Similar to when Joseph Smith asked God “where art thou?” I felt like shouting at God, “Why’d you torture me by making me study for a pointless test that would do me no good anyway?” I remember questioning whether I had felt any spiritual promptings at all. But mostly I just felt angry.
Over the course of the next year I tried hard to feel God’s love. I began to feel it in ways that I hadn’t ever experienced before. I started doing art and mindfulness and yoga – things that were all new to me – but things that helped me feel God’s love.
After a year of healing from the postpartum depression and the anger about graduate school, I re-applied to graduate school. This time I applied to a different program I hadn’t previously known existed. I was accepted and now, as I’m about to graduate, I see that the hand of the Lord was working to help get me on the path I’m on now. God did help me study for that GRE, and even though I didn’t get in the year I thought I would, God has helped me every step of the way in His timeframe. Looking back now, it’s easy to see His hand at multiple moments during this and I’m glad it worked out the way it did. But during the process I felt angry and alone and it took a lot of work for me to be able to step back and notice, as Joseph Smith was promised, that my “afflictions shall be but a small moment.”
As I reflect on these experiences where I felt my divine nature, I also recognize that these moments motivated me to act in loving service – in a way that I believe God wants me to. On my mission, the love I felt from God helped me to love others in a more Christlike way and be willing to serve however God wanted me to serve. As I reflect on my graduate school experience, I recognize that, as God has helped me feel that I am truly His daughter and that He truly is helping me each step of my path, it is my duty to be willing to serve others and I hope that the work I do in my career can help create a world that is a bit better than how I found it. God didn’t just prompt me to get into grad school for my own well-being, but because He wants me to utilize my learned skills to create a better world. And I recognize that He showed me love, so I could learn to love myself in order to love others fully.
Reverend Jacqui Lewis wrote of the importance of truly loving ourself – seeing our divine nature – in order to be our full potential. She said, “By self-love, I don’t mean selfishness, self-absorption, or conceit. We all know people who hog the stage, dominate conversations, and have to be the center of attention, and I’m not arguing for that behavior. I’m also not arguing for narcissism, an exaggerated sense of self-importance that requires constant admiration. No, by self-love I mean a healthy delight in your true, imperfect, uniquely wonderful, particular self. I mean an unconditional appreciation for who you are, head to toe, inside and out: quirks, foibles, beauty, and blemishes—all of it. I mean seeing yourself truthfully and loving what you see.” (SOURCE)
My hope and prayer is that each of you here today can feel the love God has for you, feel that you truly are His child, and that you can love yourself in a way that God loves you. I know that as you do, you will be able to find peace during tribulation and will be able to help make the world a bit better than you found it.
I want to share that I believe that God loves me. I often question various points of my testimony. I wonder whether some talk or some scripture really makes sense. But, no matter how I look at those nitty gritty details, I always try to come back to my strong belief that God loves me. I am His daughter. And He’s going to help me each step of my life.