I was asked to write about the experience we all have on occasion, that of feeling like no matter how much we try to communicate with the Lord sometimes, it is as though the heavens have withdrawn and our prayers bounce off the ceiling and never reach their final destination. Sound familiar? I hope so. I would hate to think it was only my family line who experienced this difficulty. I know that the condition is rarely permanent, and there are some lessons we can learn when we are in this condition of seeming to be barred from heaven’s embrace.
First let’s look at the conditions surrounding this phenomenon of having the heavens withdraw themselves. It has been my experience that when I am trying to get an answer from on high, and my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and landing with ignominious shame (think “public shame”) around me on the floor of my bedroom, and when I am trying to get in touch with the infinite and instead just feel dirty or troubled inside, I generally have some soul searching to do. Here are four lessons I have learned from this condition over the years. Perhaps one or more of these lessons will be of help to you.
Perhaps it is time to repent
Sometimes we are able to get away with living a certain way for a long time before the results of that lifestyle catch up with us. When our choices catch up with us we often come to realize that we can no longer find joy in what we used to do. This can cause frustration, spiritual blockage, and anxiety. With some life choices the result is physical or spiritual consequences that I would place under the heading of ‘enough is enough.’ It is like the person who eats sweets with wild abandon, then wakes one day to find they are afflicted with diabetes that now controls what they can and cannot eat and how they will live their life from now on. It is sad, but true that we are not always very farsighted in how we live our lives.
Satan always has his turn
Remember the law of opposites? It applies to not only physics, but to all things spiritual as well. Each and every time we have a great spiritual experience with the Lord, Satan gets to have a go at us. Sometimes Satan gets to go first, and sometimes he has to wait to test us after the Lord has had a chance to bless us with something significant in our lives. But either way, Satan always gets his turn. When Joseph Smith went into the grove to pray he first encountered an invisible force that tried to destroy him, and would have if he had not exerted all his strength and called upon God at the moment of imminent destruction. It was only then that the Father and Son appeared to him delivering him from the enemy had held him bound.
How many times have we seen an investigator of the gospel have a great experience with the missionaries only to be bombarded the next day with anger, anti-Mormon literature, and destructive negativity that drove away the spirit the investigator had felt while the missionaries were present? Have you ever gone through a period of trial first before being rewarded with a great testimony building experience? What about the person who goes to the temple for the first time or has just been baptized? Right after their spiritual high there is a testing of their commitment. We need to be aware of, and be ready for this seesaw effect that always comes. It may not come within 24 hours, but it always comes. Knowing about it and being prepared for it ahead of time is often half the battle.
Some tests take longer than others
My wife was told in her teens that she would marry (in a blessing), and was even given information about the type of man she would marry, but she was in her mid forties before we met and married. She had been faithfully looking for opportunities to date and marry, and was faithfully fulfilling her responsibilities in the gospel for more than thirty years before her promised blessing was granted. Some never have their hoped for blessings granted in this life. That doesn’t mean they will never get them, it just requires of them a longer lasting form of faith than it does for most. Some suffer from same gender attraction, yet choose to live the commandments, exercising faith that it will all work out for them in the eternities. The Lord gives us our trials based on what we need to learn the most. It is our responsibility to be meek and submit to His will in all things, even if we have to endure our sorrows for the rest of our lifetime. It is all part of enduring to the end. We are promised that all will be made up to us in the hereafter, every injustice, and every sacrifice will be duly rewarded. In that day we will be glad we paid the price for the glory we will receive at the hand of our creator.
Growth takes time
Some lessons we need to learn cannot be learned in a night or even in a fortnight (fourteen days). When we are robbed of our livelihood or of a loved one, the mourning period can last a long time. When we need to experience a particular kind of growth, we will have to undergo the trials that will produce that kind of growth. Sometimes we get our answers to prayer quickly, and sometimes it is many years before the answers we seek are even hinted at. There is a reason that patience is a virtue. All virtues are difficult to learn and maintain, but all virtues are of great value to our souls.
Wrapping it up
Often, knowing what is happening helps to deliver us from the mystery of a situation, allowing us to respond in a rational and logical way. I know that sounds like such a “guy” thing to say, but it is true. Realizing the signs of an upcoming struggle allows you to be prepared for the onslaught instead of being blindsided by it. Now I know that when I start to have certain spiritual signals (that sometimes come a year or more in advance), I know that a change is coming. I can be on guard with my spirituality. I know to look for the signs of the upcoming change and for the temptations that will surely either precede the event or follow it. I also have to resign myself to the fact that I have no idea how long I am going to have to wait, and I don’t have any idea what form the change is going to take. But the important thing is that I know it is coming and can prepare myself so I am not caught off guard.
Now when my prayers bounce off the ceiling and the heavens feel like they have withdrawn, I know there is a reason for it. Once I know that, I can start searching for the lesson(s) I need to learn. It is my signal that it is time for me to be more humble and more meek, and to try a little harder to seek out the Lord and his will in my life.