I don’t think I ever really questioned anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints growing up. My good parents played a big part in that.
Family home evening, family prayer, and morning devotions were a must in our home. My father had been one of the first African missionaries to serve in my home country of Ghana. My mother often shared the many miracles that led her to join the Church. They were good people. I relied heavily on the testimony of my parents. It wasn’t until I moved to America that everything changed.
My brother and I called our first year in America our year of depression. Adjusting to a new culture and people was not an easy experience. I didn’t feel like I fit in—even at church. But I did my best to stay positive and give myself time to adjust.
I eventually served a mission, but when I returned, so did those old feelings of not fitting in. I blamed it on adjusting back from missionary life and moved on.
After a reasonable amount of time had passed, the feeling was still there.
I realized that I had a hard time feeling Heavenly Father’s love for me. I felt disconnected from friends; I didn’t have the support I did in the mission field. And maybe I was feeling like I didn’t deserve His love. I don’t know. There were nights when I would cry myself to sleep, wondering where He was. It felt like all of a sudden He was silent. Maybe my prayers didn’t ascend high enough. It bothered me because I noticed that it started to affect my relationship with others. I pushed friends away, not wanting them to know how I was feeling. I searched myself to see if there was anything I was doing wrong or needed to do better.
I did what my parents and Church leaders have counseled, and I started going to the temple more frequently, praying throughout the day, and taking time to study the scriptures. But it didn’t seem to be working, at least not right away. Some nights when I knelt down to pray, all I could say was “Help!” It felt like I didn’t even know how to pray anymore.
I knew theoretically that Heavenly Father loved me. I mean, He was God, and I was supposed to be His daughter. At least that is what I sang in Primary growing up, so logically He should love me. For some reason I couldn’t feel it. I struggled and I pleaded. I read my patriarchal blessing, and I wept.
I struggled for many months. I wrestled with the Lord for a long time, but there seemed to be no relief in sight. I had promised Heavenly Father earlier that no matter what happened, I would at least go through the motions until I felt His love again. I kept reading, going to the temple, going to church. Maybe we have trials of our faith to push us to go deeper, to try harder.One Sunday I walked into church late and sat in the back like I usually did. My heart was heavy and hurting a little more than usual that day. As the sacrament hymn began, I started getting emotional. The words hit home a little too closely this time. Before I knew it, tears began to run freely down my face. Many painful experiences from my life started rushing through my brain. I said a silent prayer and wondered why the Savior was not coming to my rescue. I was desperate for His love. At this point I was looking for a sign. Anything! I would take anything.
I held back tears again as the words from the speaker pierced my heart. And then I lost it when we sang “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” I contemplated going home after sacrament meeting. Something urged me to stay. In Relief Society I was asked to give the closing prayer. Would He hear me? As I prayed I choked on my words, but I did it. I finished my prayer and drove home sobbing like a child. I wondered if He still remembered me. I felt lost; I felt alone.
Two weeks after that emotional Sunday, I had an experience that changed my life. I was invited to be one of the narrators for the Church’s Be One event in Salt Lake City commemorating the 40th anniversary of the priesthood being given to all worthy men. After a long night of rehearsals for the show, I got talking to one of the other narrators. As we were talking, I felt like I needed to bare my soul to her. Through tears I spilled everything.
As soon as I finished, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Mercy, I don’t know why I feel this way, but I feel like I should tell you that God loves you. He really does. He is so aware of you and knows exactly how you feel. You have served Him so well and He doesn’t take that for granted. You are going to be OK. He has your back. You are on the right track. You are going to be OK.”
I cried as I heard those words. I felt so much relief. For the first time in many, many months I believed that Father in Heaven loved me. I felt it. It was real. I didn’t expect that at all, but there it was. My pain and anxiety were replaced with peace and joy. That night, I drove home in tears, but for the first time in a long while, these were tears of joy and gratitude. Gratitude that God does care. Gratitude that He knows us perfectly and will go to the ends of the earth to show us.
I needed to connect with that newfound friend, a woman I wouldn’t have met had I not accepted the invitation to participate in the Be One event. I needed to feel safe enough to share my heart. When I did, I heard God’s specific message for me, shared through someone else. For you, He might share His love through an inspired thought, an act of service, a talk in church, a song, a beautiful sunset, or a prayer said on your behalf.
As shared by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “We have the faithful promise of God that He will neither forget nor forsake those who incline their hearts to Him” (“You Matter to Him,” Oct. 2001 general conference).
I have tried to give my heart to God. And He did not fail me. It took time. It took tears. It took being vulnerable enough to reach out to someone else for support. But He did not forget me. God always keeps His promises, no matter how long it takes.