Monday, November 23, 2009

A Prison Temple

Consider where you life is. Right now, you are probably struggling with a very difficult decision either recently made, or coming up soon. For me, my heart is heavy but my heart is full. I write this in an effort to express how much I believe in the comfort that I have received through Jesus Christ.

Joseph Smith was in liberty jail during the winter of 1838-1839. While there, he and his companions were forced to walk in a stooped position, they were given contaminated food that was sometimes poisoned, they were freezing and when they had access to a fire, they had to breath constant smoke. "Pen, or tongue, or angels," could not adequately describe "the malice of hell" that he suffered there.

For some of us, we are in that hell. Either through no fault of our own, or through poor choices, we are surrounded by that hell. We can, however, turn that hell into a prison temple. Of course, the prison in which Joseph Smith was trapped in was not like our temples; it lacked beauty, purity, and cleanliness. So how can we call it a temple? And what does the title of "a prison temple" teach us about the love of God and how that love is manifest?

It teaches us that we can have beautiful, profound, inspired, and sacred experiences with the Lord in any situation we are in. I believe that with all my heart. We can have these experiences when we are faced with the insurmountable, the unjust, and the cruelest opposition and odds we have ever faced.

In one way or another, we will all spend time in our own little jail. We may face things that we do not want to face for reasons that may not be our fault. In fact, we may be trying to live the absolute best that we can, and for those reasons face difficult circumstances. We may face ridicule or persecution, we may endure heartache and separation from loved ones, and we may even be left hungry, forlorn, and alone.

These difficult lessons teach us that God uses these opportunities to reach into our very souls, if we do 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.

Everyone faces trying times. When this happens, we sometimes fear that our friends, family, and even God has abandoned us. We may be tempted on occasion to cry out with bitterness of heart, "Oh God, where art thou...? How long shall thy hand be stayed...? Yea, O Lord, how long shall [we] suffer...before...thy bowels be moved with compassion towards [us]?"

I want to tell you right now, that when these moments come into our lives, that we cannot succumb to the fear that God has abandoned us or that he does not hear our prayers--whether uttered aloud or from the depths of our souls. He is right there with us, where He has always been! Our prayers are heard. And when we weep, He and the angels of heaven weep with us. He is your father, and you are his child. Even when unmerited things may be done to us by our enemies but also, in some cases, by those whom we thought were friends, we must remember that God is with us. Jesus Christ said, "I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up".

We must also always remember that just because difficult things are happening, it does not mean that we are unrighteous or unworthy of blessings or that God is disappointed in us. We have to remember that no matter how miserable we are, we are in very good company. The same thing happened to the Savior of the world. He had been falsely accused, been torn away from family and friends, cast into the hands of murderers and yes, he was triumphant. So if the Savior himself, the most perfect being to ever live faced such injustices, we cannot expect that we will not face some of what He endured. However heavy our load might feel, it would be a lot heavier if we did not have the Savior who had gone before us to lift that burden with us, and for us.

We don't want to look for sorrow. We don't want to become martyrs. Trouble seems to find us when we're not looking. But remember that when you see a little bit of your prison coming for you, that God has not forgotten you, that He has been where you are, and that He will provide for your deliverance and comfort.

Finally, and this for me is the most difficult, we must learn to remain calm, patient, charitable, and forgiving. Even when faced with distressing circumstances that make us want to lash out at friends, or God, we must remember that "no power or influence can or ought to be maintained...[except] by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned".

I believe the most poignant example of this is when the Savior was hanging on the cross and said, "Father, forgive them; for they know now what they do". The real test of our Christian discipleship is when things are not going smoothly. That is when we get to see what people are really made of and how committed we really are. When we are able to handle such difficulties with charity, and patience, the spirit of God can reach us. It cannot penetrate a heart hardened by hate or anger, self-pity or vengeance. That spirit can only find access to us when we have a heart striving for the principles of true discipleship.

It is hard for us to be cheerful in these situations. In fact, there are those who no matter how hard they try, just can't seem to smile. But that doesn't mean we can't be optimistic. We can always hope for a brighter tomorrow! In those cold and lonely hours, we can turn to the Lord, wait upon His mercy, and see his arms stretched out towards us. He does love us.

Finally, I want to leave you with the testimony of Elder Holland. I can wholeheartedly testify to what he says: "I testify that heaven's kindness will never depart from you, regardless of what happens. I testify that bad days come to an end, that faith always triumphs, and that heavenly promises are always kept."