While I often struggle to remember where I parked my car or my latest log-in username and password, there are certain moments of life seared deep into my memory. Some are joyful, cup-runneth-over snapshots of time, and other ones are quite painful to revisit.
One moment in the latter category is an experience my husband and I had many years ago. We were in a room filled with doctors and nurses at a children’s hospital. Our youngest daughter, Annie, was two years old, and after weeks of her being in agony, with unanswered questions and countless visits to the doctor and the hospital, they had finally diagnosed her with acute pancreatitis. Once they figured that much out, there was a sudden flurry of activity as the doctors and nurses rushed to stabilize her and begin treatment. As part of that effort, they asked my husband and me to please hold her down as they shoved tubes up her little button nose and down her throat.
Years later, I still can’t speak of this moment in time without weeping. Our precious daughter was hurting and terrified, and all she knew was that her parents were holding her down, allowing strangers to cause even more pain. This of course was very confusing and traumatic for her. My husband and I knew that these procedures, while excruciating, could (and would eventually) save her life. But of course she didn’t understand that. Above her screams, I remember trying desperately through my own sobs to calm and reassure her, repeating over and over phrases like “It’s OK. Mommy is here. It’s going to be OK. I love you. Mommy’s here.”
I wanted to help. I wanted to provide comfort. But her distress was so high, she simply couldn’t register what I was saying. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t ours. We were doing everything we could. It was just a moment of terrible pain and fear for her.
Fortunately, our sweet toddler recovered over time, and life moved on. We’re told in John 14:26 that the Holy Ghost shall teach us and “bring all things to [our] remembrance.” The Lord taught me a powerful, life-changing lesson by doing this about 18 months later.
Our family was going through a stressful time. My husband was serving as bishop of our ward, and our fledgling software company was really struggling. We had not received much in the way of paychecks for six months, and things were starting to feel desperate. I was filled with fear for our young family. I was also dealing with some chronic health challenges, along with a few other difficult situations that made life discouraging and dark.
I had been pleading with the Lord for guidance, comfort, and peace. But none of those seemed to come. I could not feel the Lord, and the longer I prayed and pled without feeling any sort of response, the more I felt hurt and confused. I started to wonder, “Is He listening? Does He care about me?” I had always felt He’d heard my prayers in the past. “What has changed? Why the distance?” My husband’s calling as bishop required sacrifice on his part and on our family’s part. “Shouldn’t that sacrifice ‘earn’ us a bit of the Lord’s support?” I thought. “Or is God like a militant sports coach who wanted us to suffer in this way ‘for our own good’?” I prayed, I fasted, I searched the scriptures, I attended the temple, I continued to serve, and then I did all of those things with even more urgency. My prayers became more and more desperate as time went on. But nothing changed.
I began to feel like a child who had been punished without understanding the reasons why.
And then one day, as I was once again pleading with the Lord in prayer, the Holy Ghost forcefully brought my earlier experience with my daughter Annie to my mind. And it became clear.
He was there, beside me, just as I had been with Annie, saying, “It’s OK. I’m here. I love you. It’s going to be all right.” But I was spiritually hyperventilating to the point that I simply couldn’t hear or feel Him.
Just as Annie was not at fault for not hearing me through her pain, neither was I at fault for not being able to hear or feel the Lord’s messages of comfort and peace. I wasn’t unworthy or unloved. I simply wasn’t capable of sensing Him in that moment. Similarly, not being able to hear Him also wasn’t indicative of a lack of caring on His part or because He had abandoned me when I needed Him. He was there; He always had been. He cared about my pain and fear. He knew it was going to be OK. My distress was just so high that it blocked me from feeling and hearing anyone above my own internal shrieking.
The insightful Christian author C. S. Lewis seems to have experienced something similar. In his book A Grief Observed, he states:
“You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. … The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear” (C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed [New York City: Bantam Books, 1988], 53–54).
I don’t know all of the reasons why we are sometimes granted peace that “passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and can feel Him carrying us through deep waters and great difficulty in miraculous ways, while at other times the noise of our emotions or life experiences temporarily blocks our spiritual eyes and ears. There are countless examples of both happening in the scriptures, as well as in my own lifetime of experience.
But my distinct understanding given from God at my time of distress was incredibly helpful to me. Because once the Lord helped me understand what was happening, not only did I feel less abandoned, but I was able to focus some attention on practicing mindfulness, steadying my emotional breathing, and calming my spiritual self down a bit. When I was able to quiet some of the noise my anxiety was creating, I was able to “hear Him” and feel His love, concern, and reassurance.
I realize that for many this process of trying to hear Him (again or for the first time) takes a very long time—maybe even a lifetime. And I do not want to minimize that pain in any way or oversimplify our efforts to draw near Him.
But through this experience, I was taught in an impactful way that the silence of heaven is a temporary state. Even during those times that our pain and fear drown out His words, He is always there, beside us, holding our hand, anxious to do all that is necessary to heal us and ultimately save us.
Have you had an experience with gratitude over the past few months? Or do you have a story you’d like to share about finding peace in Jesus Christ? Send your submission (700 words min.) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!