Calloused Hearts- Mother Teresa

Previously I considered a passage of scripture that described a dark cloud which falls upon us all, temporarily blinding us from the love of God. This phenomenon has also been referred to as the “Dark Night of the Soul,” and this condition seems to describe Mother Teresa’s experience perfectly.

Though the woman dedicated her life to the service of her fellow man and constantly professed her love for God, she admitted in letters and personal writings that she had ceased to feel His love coming back to her. In her own words she expressed that “even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness.” She also wrote that “for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

After ten years of this darkness she described a month of reprieve, a time where “the long darkness … that strange suffering” was lifted away and she could feel God’s love again. Later the darkness returned.

Of course one could be cynical about the whole thing. Maybe she was hiding secret sins, maybe she had a mental condition, maybe she was agitating a passing sensation into a consuming obsession.

Maybe.

But having no compelling evidence that these were the case, I prefer to give her the benefit of a doubt. I like to remind myself that even Jesus had his moment of disconnection where he cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). My assumption is that Mother Teresa was simply caught in that same dark cloud which falls on each of us. It comes upon us at different periods of life and for different durations, and for her it appears to have been particularly late in life and of particularly long duration. But I like to believe that like her Savior, she felt her way faithfully through it and finally rested in the light at the end of the tunnel.

Calloused Hearts- 1 Nephi 8:10, 19, 21, 23-24

And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.
And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.

COMMENTARY

There arose a mist of darkness; insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way
I have just considered how our hearts will feel subdued and inactive when we are not sincerely striving to follow Christ. And while this is a reason for why we might have a “calloused heart,” it is not the only one.
Today’s verses share an allegory for our walk in life and it includes a mist of darkness that descends on us, blinding us from God’s love. And that mist of darkness descends on everyone, even those that aren’t lost in the ways of sin or ignoring their conscience. Even those that are trying their best will at times find themselves in the mist. They will faithfully keep moving forward, but won’t feel the effect of what they’re doing. Even as they advance they will feel as if they’re treading in the same place. They will remain lethargic in the soul, and won’t see God’s light shining about them. They will wonder what they’re doing wrong.
And if you are feeling that way perhaps you aren’t doing anything wrong at all. Perhaps you are just passing through a part of life that we all pass through.

And they caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree
As these verses describe, those who finally do overcome this mist don’t do so by holding still until it passes. They keep moving forward, even when they don’t feel like they’re actually progressing. It is always nicer to move onward when feeling bathed in God’s light, but you can move forward even if you don’t. Sometimes God invades our hearts with His love to motivate us to move, but sometimes we have to motivate ourselves and move to where God’s love is waiting.

Leading to Water- Genesis 29:9-11, 18, 20

And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep: for she kept them.
And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

COMMENTARY

When Jacob saw Rachel, Jacob went near, and kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve seven years for Rachel
With yesterday’s passage we read Jacob’s plea to “come again to my father’s house in peace.” At the time, all he wanted was to go back home to exactly what he had before. But at that point he had not yet met Rachel. For as soon as he did meet her he stopped speaking of a hasty return to his father and instead committed to seven years of labor in a strange land so that he could marry her!
And when that dowry was doubled to fourteen years he prolonged his absence from home without hesitation! In fact, Jacob’s relationship to his childhood home becomes so unimportant that his story doesn’t recount anything more of it until he and Esau are burying their father after his passing (Genesis 35:29).

And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her
Jacob had a love of his own now. And through that love he found a new vocation and a new home. While his father and grandfather had been well-diggers, he became an accomplished herdsman. While his father and grandfather set their roots in Canaan, Jacob took an extended leave of absence to Padan-Aram. In short, Jacob had become his own person. It was a hard thing for him to leave the nest, but truly it led him to spread his wings.

Give Thanks- Variety

I am grateful for variety.

We didn’t have to have mountains and valleys and forests and tundras and deserts and islands and plains. It could have all been just one biome. But it isn’t.

And we didn’t have to have fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices and meat and grain. It could have just been one superfood. But it isn’t.

And we didn’t have to have art and music and inventions and dance and theater and humor and magic. Humanity could have only had cravings to do the work necessary for survival. But we don’t.

One of the greatest signs of God’s love is that the world isn’t only survivable, it is thriving. And it isn’t only sufficient, it is overflowing. And it isn’t just plain, it is beautiful.

#givethanks

Dealing With Failure- Luke 15:20, Isaiah 54:8

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

COMMENTARY

He arose, and came to his father. And his father saw him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him
There is a great myth in our society that we cannot love a person unless we also sweep all their misdeeds under the rug. It is believed that if we call a behavior wrong, then by extension we must hate all people that participate in that behavior.
The parable of the prodigal son shows a father that loves his son perfectly, is eager to forgive, and accepts his son’s return without question. But at the same time, he never condones the boy’s wayward behavior. He never claims that sin is not sin. He is able to both disapprove of the boy’s mistakes and also retain his love for him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee
I believe a major reason for the myth that we cannot be opposed to sin but still love the sinner is because anger is so often coupled with hate. As small children anger quickly becomes associated with things like neglect, cruel criticisms, and even physical abuse.
But anger, in and of itself, is not hate. And while hate is never a correct response to failure, sometimes anger is. When we let ourselves down it is possible to be upset with our behavior and call ourselves out for it, while also still immersing ourselves in self-love and care.

Dealing With Failure- Matthew 18:21-22

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

COMMENTARY

Peter said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, not until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Each of us must learn in life how to deal with those that disappoint and offend us. And while often we speak of that in terms of other people sinning against us, the truth is that the person who most often upsets us is our own self.
And in return, we usually are also our own worst critics, giving ourselves self-talk that is far crueler than what we would say to any other person. When we do something that lets us down, we mentally shake ourselves and ask when we’re finally going to get it right!
But I feel that Jesus’s counsel in this verse condemns withholding forgiveness from ourselves, as much as from another. And eventually, I started treating myself better after I felt God say to me: “Hey, don’t be so hard on Abe. I love that guy!”
We can forgive ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and still ask ourselves to grow and improve. In fact, our behavior is most likely to improve, when we set our expectations for ourselves with a heavy dose of self-love.

Count Your Blessings- 1 John 4:18-19

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We love him, because he first loved us.

COMMENTARY

There is no fear in love; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love
It is impossible to properly love God when we are afraid. And the value of loving God is not only in rendering to Him what He is due, it is for our own benefit as well. For when people do not love God, they are not good to themselves or others. When people do not love God, and are instead afraid, they compromise their soul and make choices that they are ashamed of. Thus fear is not only unpleasant, it is one of the great destroyers of the self.

But perfect love casteth out fear
We love him, because he first loved us
Fear can be dispelled, but only by retaining a lively sense of love in our hearts. Where love is, fear cannot also be.
But how to obtain that perfect love that casteth out fear? It is not something that we have the ability to conjure up in ourselves. As we learn in the second verse from John, it is something that God gives to us first, and then we maintain it by loving Him back. Thus by regularly exchanging love with Him we keep our fears at bay and live as our best selves.
And inherent in that exchange of love is a remembering of that love. Every time we praise and give devotion to God, we signify that we recall what He has given to us.
Or, to work it backwards, those that regularly count their blessings are the ones in whom the cycle of perfect love is turning. They are constantly refreshing in their minds the reasons that they do not fear, the reasons that they know it is worthy to rely on the Lord. For He has already loved them once, and they remember it, and know that He will love them again.

Worthy Vessels- John 5:19, 1 John 4:19

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

We love him, because he first loved us.

COMMENTARY

The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do
Each one of us has seen others doing good, and even been the recipients of that good. And having experienced this, naturally we desire to do good things to others, and we try to follow the pattern of those that showed us the example.
But those that did the good things to us were themselves only following the example of others who previously did good to them, and so on and so on. Each of these paths of goodness ultimately leads to the same singular source. As Jesus taught, even he only followed the example of his father. His proclamation is total: the son can do nothing of himself. He does not say that the Father taught one virtue and that then he, Jesus, riffed his own new ones off of it, he claims that any good act done on earth first had its template written in heaven.

We love him, because he first loved us
I have seen the truth of that in my own life. For many years I was fully capable of fearing God, but I couldn’t sincerely love Him until I felt His own love bursting into my soul. I had wanted to love Him, but I had to have Him teach me how. As Graham Cooke so eloquently put it: God loves us first, and then He allows us to love Him back with that love.

Graham Cooke’s message starts at 1:15, quote comes from 4:35

The Way That Things Are- Personal Example

I first thought of conducting this study after a recent experience with our newborn daughter in the hospital. She was still trying to get the hang of nursing, and it was a difficult task for her. She wanted to nurse, but she kept going about it the wrong way. She would bite, when she needed to suck. She would push away, when she need to pull in. She would lay idly, when she needed to work for it.

And through all this she became very frustrated. She needed nourishment, but she wanted it to come in particular ways, which ways were not in harmony with the ways of nature. At this point she had a choice. She could adapt to the way that things are, or she could try to force the world to work the way that she wanted.

Like most infants, she adapted. We are each born with a wonderful ability to recognize when we are being ineffective, and to learn from our mistakes. We feel resistance and we naturally align with the proper flow of things.

Imagine if my daughter had not done this though. What if she had thought to herself “biting, and pushing, and laying idly doesn’t give me the stream of nourishment I need…so therefore the stream of nourishment must simply not exist.” She could deny the existence of mother’s milk, she could even deny the existence of a loving mother. She could mistake the earnest efforts of that mother to correct her as being mean and punitive, refusing to meet her on her own terms.

Sadly, this sounds like a very familiar state of mind. Though we are born with the tendency to adapt and learn from our mistakes, as we get older we learn how to be more stubborn. We lean into our follies, even as they continually fail to provide us any gratification. And when our way does not work, we then deny that any right way exists at all. We claim that God must be a myth, or else He is a cruel being for not working the way that we want Him to work.

But the reality would remain what it was even so. If my daughter had chosen to deny milk, a mother, and parental love, all those elements would have existed even so. And if we choose to deny righteousness, God, and divine love, all those elements exist even so. They exist in the way that they do, and they are set in their nature. Thus it is up to us to adapt to their terms, not the other way around.

The Need for Refreshing- Psalm 143:8 (GNT), Lamentations 3:21-23 (NLT)

Remind me each morning of your constant love, for I put my trust in you. My prayers go up to you; show me the way I should go.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

COMMENTARY

Remind me each morning of your constant love
We have just discussed our need to regularly recommit ourselves to God. We often forget the feelings of the past, and thus need to establish new connections to replace those which have grown stale.
Similarly, we also need to regularly be reminded of God’s love for us. Suppose He were to one time say to us “I love you, and I will love you forever,” and then never again profess His devotion to us. Though those one-time words should theoretically suffice, they never would. A single proclamation for eternity grows hollow within us over time. That is just our nature. What we need is a constant reaffirming of just how much we mean to Him.

The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Ours is a transitory existence. We eat, but later again we hunger. We sleep, but later again we are fatigued. God professes His love, but later again we are doubtful. As a kind and patient parent, God does not despise our forgetfulness. He reminds of it us over and over, the same as we do to our own children. Each morning He is ready to tell us that He is just as committed to us as He was the day before. We feel His renewed pledge, and it rejuvenates to remake our own pledges as well.