I have the opportunity to teach young women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints every few weeks. This month, the focus in the youth curriculum is the Apostasy and Restoration. (If you are not familiar with Mormon teachings on these topics, I encourage you to click on the previous link.)
I have felt to focus the lesson today for our class on the First Vision. I wanted to share some thoughts that came this week as I was preparing for our class discussion.
I decided to read with my family the account of Joseph Smith’s first vision as recorded in his history (found in our LDS canon of scripture in the Pearl of Great Price).
It struck me with more power perhaps than it ever has because I felt more than ever before how personal his story is, how much it reflects what mortal life can often be like. How much it reflects what some of my own personal journey has been like during the past year or so. I have not been struggling with my faith or testimony of the Church or looking for a religion, but I have wrestled with some of the deepest, lifetime struggles that have been with me since my childhood and have had some other difficult challenges and questions in my life. These things have sometimes left me feeling like I could not take another step. Or feeling like I couldn’t take another step until I had some clarity.
I was moved to tears as I read out loud what Joseph experienced. I could relate to words and phrases he used: “confusion,” “strife,” feeling it was “impossible to come to any certain conclusions” on his own. He was surrounded by a “war of words and tumult of opinions” and “labor[ed] under…extreme difficulties” of all of this confusion. He writes:
I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
Joseph turned to the scriptures for insight.
I was one day reading the aEpistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack bwisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
The scripture sank deeply into his soul.
I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed bwisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know;
At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in adarkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would bgive liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
I’m struck by how as he sought to open his heart (and, for the first time, his mouth) to ask God his question, he was overcome by the power of the adversary. Clearly his experience teaches us that there is a power that desires that we not pray. This is consistent with a scripture in the Book of Mormon, which states, “For if ye would hearken unto the aSpirit which teacheth a man to bpray, ye would know that ye must cpray; for the devil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray” (2 Nephi 32:8).
Perhaps the application from this is that we should not be surprised if we run into serious, soul-stretching opposition when we are seeking God’s help. I should not be surprised when opposition comes!
My children pointed out how Joseph’s faith was evidenced by the fact that he did not give up when that opposition came. He was pushed to the very limits before the light finally emerged and his prayer was answered, but he “exert[ed] all [his] powers to acall upon God to deliver [him] out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon [him].”
His faith urged him forward. He had questions, he sought answers. He believed they would come.
And they did. God answered him.
As we read these verses as a family, I felt God personally urging me forward, to continue to earnestly and faithfully seek God’s guidance for my personal questions and struggles. I testify that He is there and He does listen. I have never seen God or the Savior, but I know They are real.
If you are struggling with hard issues in your life, with questions that leave you at a loss of what to do, I invite you to read the story of Joseph Smith and consider the patterns and teachings about prayer that are presented in this powerful account. Even if you do not share our faith, I believe you might find something in that story that can validate the reality of your own struggles and give you hope that God is aware of you. He knows you by name and He knows your need. But He does wait for us to wrestle and seek and knock and wait, in faith.
More thoughts tomorrow…. I am looking forward to hearing the thoughts of the young women in our class today, too. I loved learning with and from my children. I love seeing how the Spirit teaches us each in personal ways and that when we share with each other, all can be edified and rejoice together.
What are your thoughts on Joseph Smith’s story? On prayer? On what helps you push through the darkness when things are difficult and confusing?