(Warning: This is a very autobiographical post and therefore may only be of interest to family and very, very close friends. 🙂 )
Lately when I have been praying and pondering many, many things, I keep getting this question coming to my mind as an answer to my thoughts and prayers: “What kind of God do you believe in?”
Having recently turned 60 years old (which actually stuns me, but seems a much younger age from the perspective of actually being it than it ever did when I was actually young 🙂 ), I have done a lot of looking back over my life and thinking about what the Lord has taught me all along, and what beautiful, although difficult, roads He has guided me through all my life to get me to realize things He wants me to learn this time around.
So, here is some of what I have been thinking.
I think I was born loving Jesus.
From my birth until the age of about 10, I lived a fairly sheltered life surrounded by people who I knew adored me. In my memories of those years there is some angst from periodic sickness, and emotional trauma from empathic sharing of others’ agonies, and self inflicted pain when I perceived I might have hurt someone else in some way (I was super sensitive). And when I was grown I learned that the adults around me were actually suffering things I can hardly imagine, and I consider them heroic for trying to keep me and others safe through that, but mainly it was a time of peace for me to grow and learn in.
And it was so much about Jesus. I really trusted Him. I knew He loved me. I loved Him, and I loved everyone around me. Love was just the norm of life. And although there was so much cool stuff I looked forward to in life, like becoming a famous horseback rider (nope), Olympic swimmer (nope), doctor (became an occasional actor/writer/teacher/director/farmer and other stuff instead), a wife (did that), and a mother (did that), I knew in my child’s soul it was all really about love, every bit of it. And it was an intense, total willingness to sacrifice everything for others type of love that I knew was what we all wanted and needed. Jesus type love.
Here are some of my main memories from that time. When I was tiny I loved the song “Jesus Loves Me.” In my baby book (which my Mom kept quite extensively, since I was the first child 🙂 ), it says that when I was 3, that was my favorite song. And I remember that I loved it. I know lots and lots of other songs about Jesus and God that I love. But recently, in agony in the night, that is the song I still have sung to myself for comfort.
“Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.”
Be like a little child. “Jesus Loves Me” is what I sang, and sing, in the dark nights.
This might give you the impression that my family was especially religious. They weren’t. We were Baptist, and I remember going to church, but don’t remember if we did every Sunday when I was very young. I remember being baptized when I was 10, and that the nice Reverend Klingbeil (don’t know how his name was actually spelled) came to our house and asked me to read the Gospel of Mark (because it was the shortest gospel) in preparation for that. And then I remember him baptizing me in a font at the church wearing hip boot waders, which was cool. But all of that was what you did. It was just the expected thing. When I was a teen and lived in a different place with my Mom and Stepfather, I rode a bus to church that the local Baptist church sent around to take kids whose parents didn’t go to church.
But my Mom did believe in God. I think my Dad did too, when I was little at least. But I don’t remember talking a lot about God or anything like that in the home. It was accepted that we believed in Him, but there was not a lot of talk about it. I did say a rote prayer at night, mostly with my Mom, as I remember. Something like this:
“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
God be with me through the night
And bless me with the morning light
God bless . . . . . . . . . . . . .”
And then I would list all my family, including extended family. Then Mom would tuck me in and leave, and then I would pray in my mind to God about whatever I was concerned with.
I always saw God (Heavenly Father) and Jesus as two different people. I didn’t realize until I was much older that I was supposed to believe they were the same Being. I had missed that teaching somehow :). I remember arguing with my Stepfather (who was Catholic) when I was maybe 12 or so that it was ridiculous to think they were the same Being, since Jesus wouldn’t have been praying to Himself, etc. But the nature of them is the same, I believe. So what kind of god Jesus is, and what kind of god Heavenly Father is would be the same, as far as answering the question.
I have also thought a lot about the literature I read, sometimes over and over, and loved the most in my life. The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre (about learning to open your heart and love, even after and through adversity) and Little Women (I wanted to be Beth because she was so totally good, but I was more like Jo) were probably my most favorite when I was young. I loved fantasy and sci-fi in my teens and adulthood – like the incredible The Lord of the Rings, the story of struggling through everything impossible and being willing to sacrifice anything for good and others. I loved Ender’s Game, but the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, blew me away – speaking the dead person’s truth, every bit of it, the good and the bad, and really seeing them and all their struggles and reasons for their choices. Such an amazing way to learn about non-judgement and love, and how to see people as God does. I remember reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as I was sitting in a light booth doing lights for a play, and almost not being able to do my cues in time because of my tears from reading the truths about Christ in that book. And then the miraculous Les Miserables, which is all about non-judgement and love and God. And A Christmas Carol! What a beautiful story about redemption. The Lord certainly used those books and others to illustrate to me in a very inspired way what the scriptures are saying about His nature.
So, let’s jump back to my early Christmas times, a very big deal to me. My Mom was a brilliant and “magical” sort of person. She believed in so much cool stuff: angels, aliens (she and Dad totally saw a UFO along with lots of other people at the same time), Bigfoot, maybe even fairies, etc. She kind of believed in almost everything. There were times in my life when I saw that as a negative thing, but I have come to believe it was positive, for many reasons (which is another topic and too much of a tangent to go into now).
Because of this, my Mom made Christmas magical when I was little. Santa Claus was so fun, and I never regretted “believing” in him, because of the good things it actually taught me (which is a sort of long philosophical discussion that I will leave aside). I know lots of people think it is wrong to teach of Santa Claus as being “real,” and even that Christmas is too rooted in Pagan stuff to even celebrate it at all. I totally respect those feelings. We are all differently situated. My friend, Jeff, would say everything is perfect as it is for each of us. And, for me, Santa Claus and Christmas have only been positive. I liked getting presents, of course. But I absolutely loved giving presents, and I loved the idea that miracles can and do happen. Christmas is the spirit of love and giving and the miraculous to me.
I remember being super sick one Christmas Eve. I had this terrible pain thing in my intestinal tract that plagued me periodically for years when I was young. It was happening on that Christmas Eve, and I could not sleep from the pain, and it was a panicking thing because no one knew yet what was wrong with me, or how to stop the pain. I remember my Mom standing with me at the window of my bedroom, looking out at the snow on the ground and trees, sparkling in the moonlight. She had her arm around me and was talking about the beauty we were looking at and magical things that I don’t remember. What I do remember from her is a feeling of joy and love and the spirit of the miraculous that should be felt on that particular night. I don’t remember what gifts I got that year. But I remember that time with Mom and the great comfort it gave me in my pain.
I also remember our little Nativity set. I loved that set! I loved to set it up every year. I had a certain way it needed to be. My younger brother also apparently had a certain way it needed to be, because my Mom said every time one of us would go past it, it would be rearranged :). I especially loved the sheep. There were two individual sheep in the set, and a shepherd with a lamb carried around his neck. Maybe that is what made me love my real sheep so much when I was grown and had a farm. Sheep really are gentle souls, and a great symbol for the Lamb of God.
And the music! Christmas music is, and always has been, such a joy to me! It needs to start in September. My birthday is Sept. 20th, and I always thought Christmas music should start just after my birthday. My first 10 years were spent living mostly in New York, so by my birthday it was getting cold, and that meant I needed to think about Christmas, of course :). My favorite Christmas songs have always been the Jesus and Angel songs. I loved “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” when I was little. I knew it was true that those Angels came and announced Jesus to the shepherds. Miraculous! Right now this is probably my favorite Christmas song (except maybe for the Hallelujah Chorus):
The point this is leading to is that my earliest memories are very much inundated with Jesus. And to me, from my experience with Him back then, He is love and joy and miracles. He is also freedom.
When I was a teen the Lord wanted me to learn some more great stuff. He blessed me with a whole lot more truth, and a whole lot more experience – a lot of experience in the Telestial Kingdom, or the world in which we now live. And that experience has to come through that Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that got us in this place originally. For many years I learned that way, and I learned lots of super great stuff, until it was clear I was insane – insanity being doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Okay, that’s a tiny bit of a joke :), but not totally.
Joseph Smith talked about teaching correct principles and letting people govern themselves. God does the same. He follows what He teaches us to do, by using persuasion Himself, and not force. We teach that free will is paramount, that Satan is the one who wanted to take that from us, and yet we often perpetuate Satan’s agenda without even realizing it. We become unintentional Pharisees. God presents light and truth to us, and then we choose to implement it, or not. And so, by our own choices and experience we learn what we want, we learn what is really good for us. And if we continue on, we also come to learn that what we want is to return to the Tree of Life after the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has beaten us :).
So, for several decades I was working for Tree of Life stuff using Telestial means – thinking if I just did everything a little better, or just did more of the good stuff, just worked harder and harder, and on and on, and did more and more of what people told me I should, I would get there. At one point, towards the end of those decades of learning, I accepted a calling that was literally killing me in almost every way and which I finally came to realize was not at all something the Lord had asked of me. I did it because I was very used to following people, even when it overrode what God was telling me. With that experience, and also a miraculous moment when I made a small step towards following the Lord over the “arm of flesh” and the Lord literally changing in an instant how I understood that concept (of not relying on the arm of flesh or following men), I began another phase of learning what kind of God I believe in.
But I already knew some of the possibilities available in this life. That was one thing I learned as a teen, that Celestial possibilities actually exist here. And I had studied everything I could find about those possibilities and prayed about them, and for them, for decades.
So then, after decades, the Lord apparently felt I had been in roughly the same situation long enough for what needed to be learned there, and he began to gently show me what I was believing and doing that was wrong. And that was when a whole wider view of what God is began to open up to me. And I learned that I needed to learn to totally listen to Him, and let no one get in between me and Him.
In answer to God’s question to me about “What kind of God do you believe in?” I have had to look back at what I have learned so far about what I believe His nature is and how I believe He works with us.
So, here are some of those things I have learned so far and believe about God (and when I say God, I actually believe God is Father and Mother together, but that is another post, too) and how He (they) works:
God is not trifling with us. Joseph Smith said that, and I believe it. Life is hard and intense. He doesn’t let us put ourselves through this stuff lightly. I word it that way (“put ourselves through”) because I believe we came here to learn, and that for agency to be preserved, that we don’t get put through rough stuff in order to learn without having agreed at some point in our existence to learn it in whatever ways necessary.
God does not force us, ever. He persuades us with gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned. He helps us when we ask, and gives us what we want, although He prepares us for it first, if need be.
God cares about our hearts being right first, more than our minds (although eventually the goal is to be of one heart AND one mind). I believe this scripture:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
The Lord recently said this: “Be of one heart, and regard one another with charity. Measure your words before giving voice to them, and consider the hearts of others. Although a man may err in understanding concerning many things, yet he can view his brother with charity, and come unto me and through me he can with patience overcome the world. I can bring him to understanding and knowledge. Therefore if you regard one another with charity then your brother’s error in understanding will not divide you. I lead to all truth. I will lead all who come to me to the truth of all things. The fullness is to receive the truth of all things, and this too from me, in power, by my word and in very deed. For I will come to you if you will come unto me.”
God does not want us to add to or take away from His doctrine, and according to Him, this is all that is:
3 Nephi 11: 30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
As soon as we start enforcing other teachings or tenets, etc. (even if they are good, and we are sure the Lord thinks they are good to do, or not do) as our requirements for people to be “allowed” to do the things the Lord asks them to do (like being baptized), then we are “adding to” and have overstepped our bounds. We are to be equals. “Equals govern themselves, not others.”
God is quick to forgive. Men are not able to forgive us, or delay our forgiveness, in place of God. We are absolutely required to forgive each other, but we are not the arbiters of God’s forgiveness. The best scriptural example I know of this is Alma the younger:
“And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart, O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who art in the gall of bitterness and art encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And O, what joy and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain.”
God (Jesus) wants us to live the Sermon on the Mount (and the Sermon at Bountiful in the Book of Mormon where He reiterated the same things), a small portion of which says this:
“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”
There is lots of other stuff in the Sermon that seems impossible to live while we are here in “Babylon.” Even a long time ago I used to wonder why religious institutions didn’t model this. I thought if they would model it, I could learn how to do it, but they don’t. I was sad about that and just figured it must be impossible living in this world. But now I believe until some few do begin to do it, we will always live in this harsh and terribly fallen world.
God wants us to be like a little child. That is why I think when He has asked me what kind of God I believe in, He has taken my mind back a lot to what I already knew when I was a little child, and have sometimes since forgotten and made complicated by the burdensome requirements of what was actually a “false” God that I didn’t really believe in.
There are a lot of things He has reminded me of, but mainly He has reminded me of this:
God is love. It all does come back to this. And though this seems a simple statement, people who all think they believe this can arrive at different interpretations of what that means they should do. Often we believe that control of others is love. We will “make” people be good because we love them. But even when we look at this Telestial world, not even thinking about God, we can see that human beings do not do well when their freedom is taken away, nor when they take away the freedom of others. I think that is because it is an eternal truth that the type of beings we are, are harmed and diminished by lack of freedom to choose for ourselves.
Another thing I have learned in my life is that I don’t know much. The more expanded my view becomes, the less I realize I know and understand in the vast scope of things. In fact, it seems that often whenever I have felt most sure of my great knowledge and understanding is the very time when I have actually been possibly the furthest from really understanding God, so I pray to always be teachable, and not hard hearted and full of unbelief (believing things that are wrong).
But these things that I do believe God is, are what I have been thinking about when I wonder what He thinks about things, or what He wants me to do. Because I need to be like Him. Because God is love, and all that encompasses, and I want to be that, too.
Merry Christmas to all!
God bless us every one!
And as Bill and Ted said: “Be excellent to each other!”