Comforter

My family and I are in Salt Lake City right now, visiting relatives.  We had a chance to hang out in Temple Square this afternoon.  It was absolutely perfect–70 degrees, gentle wind, sun shining, flowers in full bloom.  My two-year-old daughter loved the reflecting pool, and squealed with delight when my husband gave her six or seven pennies to toss into the glassy water.  I watched her somewhat enviously.   To her, the world is as clear as the reflection in that pool: she knows what love is and she knows that she has it–and she doesn’t worry much about the rest.

Something about growing up clouds the vision somehow.

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As we made our way around the grounds, we stopped at the visitors centers and took in the exhibits.  One stop stood out in my mind as particularly descriptive of my last six months of searching, as though it could all be wrapped up in this single experience.  It was a presentation on the promise of eternal families–a message that has historically brought me peace.  But today, it was difficult to know how to feel or what to think.

You see, in the past, I’ve judged truth based on a feeling of rightness, or comfort.  Recently, I’ve begun to question that approach: it seems so arbitrary.  I’m comforted by a steaming mug of hot cocoa, or the sight of an empty stage just waiting to be filled with stories and sets, or a long drive into the mountains–but that doesn’t mean there is some vast cosmic truth to grasp from the experience–just that it’s something I’ve been conditioned to love.

Well, today when the lights went down in that eternal families exhibit and the video presentation started playing, I felt drawn in.  The message was so familiar, so ingrained.  The easiest thing would have been to relax into the gentle sense of comfort that overtook me as I watched it…to shut my mind to the noise and the questions and surrender–wholely and purely–to the patterns of thought and faith I’ve developed since childhood.

To close my eyes to all the problems and just believe.

But I can’t do that anymore.

I left behind my surety months ago, and now I doubt I’ll ever find it again–not without rejecting the discoveries I’ve made along the way:

Not all answers are easy…not all pain is explainable…and not all stories have happily-ever-afters, or even satisfactory reasons why.

There is something about that sense of comfort, that warm feeling I once relied on to tell me I was doing okay, that I don’t trust anymore.  It’s too fast, too convenient, too cheap, when there are layers of depth and complexity you have to close yourself off from in order to stay wrapped up in it.

They say the Spirit of God is like a comforter, and I suppose it must be if they say so…but I don’t know what that means.   Because whatever the Spirit of God feels like, it certainly can’t be this.

Can it?

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on May 11, 2009, in Personal, Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. You know, just one thought before I go to bed.

    The “Comforter” title is ironic because, in my experience, often the Spirit of God tells you things you don’t want to hear.

    I wanted to hear that it was okay for me to apply to other colleges. The Spirit said no; only apply to BYU. There was nothing comfortable about that.

    I wanted to hear that my mother would survive her cancer. I was only told she would live long enough to see her granddaughter’s second birthday, which implied that she would die sometime after that. That comforted me until my daughter’s second birthday passed, and then I was uncomfortable again.

    Anyways, maybe the reason you don’t feel very “comforted” right now is because you are on the right track, and it’s the Spirit that’s making you uncomfortable with your old life so that you’ll change it. You have to cross the rocks to see the mountain view, Katie, but I think you’re going to get there.

  2. Thomas Parkin

    I agree with BJM in at least this: the Spirit is certainly not always comforting. The Spirit convicts of sin. It always points to a better way or a more complete understanding, which means leaving our current understanding or way of life, however good our life or true our understanding, behind. That is possibly one reason why so many good people never actually experience the Holy Ghost. They prefer whatever “feelings” keep them secure in what the already know. Like the man with one talent.

    That said, comforting is something the Holy Ghost does for those who become acquainted with it and acclimatize themselves to the growth that God wants for us.

    I think it is also important to remember that the Holy Ghost is not an emotion, or even a set of emotions. It is an actual being that communicates to us in our hearts and minds. That communication may cause in us any number of emotions. But, if we are on the path it will fairly consistently bring us peace: the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament and other places ~

  3. I think it can be that simple, but ours is the task of discerning what really is communication from the Spirit and what is just a warm fuzzy feeling that we feel because something is familiar.

    It’s a tough task, in my opinion…

  4. Love the new look, by the way.

    I’ll be praying for you.

  5. I’m not sure what It feels like either, Katie.

    I mean, I’ve felt what I think It should feel like, but lately there have been a few things I was absolutely certain the Spirit had told me in prayer, and I was flat out wrong.

    It’s disconcerting.

    And often, as Jack said, so is the Truth.

    So I don’t know, but I’m praying for you, too.

  6. Jack and Thomas, that’s a very interesting point about the Spirit not always being particularly comforting.

    Do you think it’s more like a sense of clarity coming into your mind–and sometimes it’s comforting, and sometimes it’s not?

    Whitney, that *is* disconcerting. I’ve had similar experiences.

    I think becoming good at discerning the Spirit is one of the most important things you can do in your spiritual life. I’m sure, like most things, it requires practice. But you have to know that you’re practicing the right things, otherwise you end up like me, having practiced the wrong thing for your whole life.

  7. there have been a few things I was absolutely certain the Spirit had told me in prayer, and I was flat out wrong.

    That’s definitely happened to me before too! It has made me a lot more cautious about my own personal revelations.

    I think becoming good at discerning the Spirit is one of the most important things you can do in your spiritual life.

    I think this is really true, Katie. I also agree with what some of the others have said above about the Spirit not always being comforting. I believe the Spirit Himself IS comforting, but what He leads us to do is not always comforting or peaceful. We’re in a spiritual war after all. He is our Comforter in this battle, but that doesn’t mean the battle will always feel pleasant or comfortable.

    Really good post, Katie. You’re so good at sharing from your heart.

  8. “Can it?”

    Yes, it can. But it’s been awhile since “comforter” simply meant “relax and swoon” for me.

    It’s interesting to me that the German word used in that passage is “der Beistand“, which does not translate to “comforter”. Rather, it has a sense more of “adviser” or “helper” or “assistor”.

    The HG may assist you with a prompting to experience some world-bending pain, whether emotionally or physically. It might prompt you to submit a name to the Bishopric for a calling in your organization, only to have the Bishopric ignore the submission. It might prompt you to wait patiently for an outcome, or speak with a raised voice against an injustice, or bear an unfair burden for longer than you’d dreamed you could.

    It’s done all those things for me.

    Take a step back from the immediacy of that uncertainty, and you may see reasons for it. Take a step back from that, and the pattern you thought you saw might dissolve or take an entirely surprising and unpredicted shape. And then the hindsight of years might put all that into something resembling an eternal perspective.

    Perhaps you’ve transcended “warm feeling of peace” religion, or “socially acceptable” religion, and have begun to really make and act on tests of your faith. Not to put too very fine a point on this, but raising children is, I think, a pretty common milieu in which that sort of thing takes place.

    But don’t overthink this too much: I think it’s alright to embrace a message of eternal families and let those ideas be a comfort; they’re true ideas. But it’s what we do about them beyond just feeling self-justified that lets the Gospel really have its influence on us. It’s one thing to nod in holy agreement to a true idea, and quite another, greater thing to actualize it through acts of will.

    Hope that made sense.

  9. Katie,

    I thought my last note to you would be my last, but then I read your “comfort” words. Please, never, never, never give up on the search for the kind of peace only the Holy Ghost can bring. You’ve felt it before and you’ll feel it again. Remember, though, it responds to a trusting, faithful attitude and not one of doubt. It must be at least a particle of faith. Why would the Lord complement us on doubting? We must work our spiritual muscles and then the Spirit confirms to us we’re moving in the right direction. The Lord knows the thoughts and struggles of our minds, and He is perfectly compassionate about our needs and wants. The laws of Heaven require, however, that we apply ourselves sincerely in the things of the Spirit. We all need to be perfectly honest with the Lord in our prayers. To confess to the Lord our doubts and fears and lack of full trust, is a comforting experience in and of itself; it is a form of repentance. The Lord is very tolerant and patient. “When the student is ready the Teacher appears.” When we become sincere and willing and submissive, marvelous things happen in our behalf through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost; the Heavens and the earth move together as one for our good. And all because we applied our faith and trust in Christ’s promises. I have had this fact proven to me more times than I can count.

    gsmith

  10. G, I appreciate your kind words both here and on my other post. May God lead us both into His truth and grace.

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