Thursday, August 5, 2010

Faith: A Clearer Understanding

The Lord has promised me that through this challenge, I would gain a greater understanding of what faith really is. As such, I’ve been making a more concerted effort to ponder on the subject and am in the process of coming to some conclusions. Simply put, I am coming to realize that true faith is really living in the moment and focusing on the sure knowledge that Christ has the power to make us equal to whatever task the future holds—even (and especially) when we don’t know what tasks those will be.

Since I’m guessing most my round-two readers are the same people reading my round one experiences, I will not belabor old points. This means, I’ll take less time to explain concepts unique to my religion and simply put links for those irregular words if anyone new is interested in digging a little deeper.

That said, I received 3 separate priesthood blessings the day I was admitted to the hospital: two from gracious friends of our Ward (i.e. congregation); and a third from my husband when he finally got into town from his business trip. I am not one to refuse any blessing, after all, and I figure it’s interesting to see the overlap between them. In a way, it was a little “litmus test” to see what part of each blessing was coming from the man giving the blessing and what part is coming from God. Actually, though, all three pretty much said the same thing, so the litmus test only solidified what I already knew—that the priesthood is a real power and that these worthy men hold it!

But two things, particularly, stuck out to me in all three blessings:

One: I am blessed to live in a time of such good medical technology and that my body would be strong and able to handle all the difficult things they would have to do to optimize the health of the baby.

This first promise brought me great comfort while I was puking every 20 minutes and feeling too weak to even bring an ice chip to my hot, dry mouth while on magnesium (or “mag” for short). The capacity of the Savior to bring peace in the midst of pain is truly remarkable. Such a different experience than misery (see this post).

Two: that this challenge will teach me more about the principle of faith and what it really is—and that my experiences with Brynn have prepared me for this lesson.

This second promise helped me to navigate my emotions. Let’s be honest, I’m human. As soon as I got in a room alone (after the Doctor made it very clear I would not be leaving the hospital on Monday), I bawled my eyes out. I mean, are you kidding me? Again? Matt was out of town on business AGAIN when I was admitted to the hospital? I was all alone AGAIN—this time with a toddler in tow? It happened at 24 weeks again? I might have another 25-weeker again? I just couldn’t believe the almost-funny, freakishly coincidental déjà vu. And yet it really wasn’t that funny. It was serious and I was in real trouble.

In addition, we have some other huge life changes coming up that I can’t discuss on the blog right now, but will at a later date. This new adjustment to a hospital stay is a serious blow to our plans and I have no idea how things are going to work out over the course of the next few months.

To say the least, I was—in typical Natalie fashion—fretting about all the possibilities, the decisions, the to-dos, and the long list of loose ends.

But then, I started to think about faith.

I didn’t have my scriptures—so I started quoting to myself some of my favorite passages:

1) Hebrews 1:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
2) Ether 12:6 And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
3) Alma 32:21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

Rehearsing these, I focused on a few things about faith. One, it is the substance of things hoped for. Two, it is not a sure knowledge, but only the beginning of the witness of true knowledge and requires testing. Three, you cannot have true faith in something that is false—it must be exercised in something true.

Especially the last part got me to thinking about the principle of “positive thinking.” Sure, I could sit here and say to myself again and again, “I will make it to 34 weeks this time. I will make it to 34 weeks this time.” But is that true? I don’t know. If I learned anything from the Brynn ordeal—it’s that a perfectly “stable” condition can change in only 5 minutes to being a very unstable condition and this baby could quite possibly be born at any time. Is it effective to focus on things that may not be true? Is it really exercising faith to set my sights on something that may not be God’s will?

But then what about hope? I couldn’t address the question of faith without addressing hope because in each of these scriptures, the word is mentioned. Hope is obviously closely tied to faith. But I have learned throughout my life that hope is not simply saying, “I hope I make it to the gas station before I run out of gas,” or, “I hope I make the soccer team,” or even, “I hope I make it to 34 weeks.” No, no. Hope is only to be focused in ONE thing: Christ. (Side note: this is one of my favorite synopses clips of a great talk on the subject). And this kind of hope, when focused in Christ, leads to perfect acceptance of His will, whatever it is.

Faith is the same way: it must be focused in Christ and in the things His Spirit whispers to us are true—things that we don’t know for sure but are willing to test.

For example, with Brynn, I had a premonition of sorts that I am quite certain was not my own wishful thinking. Rather, it was the genuine Spirit comforting me by giving me a glimpse into the future. From the first night in the hospital, I just knew everything would be all right. I just knew Brynn would live a relatively normal, healthy adult life. I had peace about it. Granted, my faith in that impression was tested on several occasions—not the least of which was having a 100% tube fed baby and then learning she was totally deaf. That certainly wasn’t my definition of a normal life! But as she progresses with her implants and I see her starting to try more and more foods, I am again and again reassured that she will have every access and every opportunity that she wants in this life. I am not worried in the least. It was healthy and fine to put my faith—and hope—in what the Lord whispered to me those early weeks in the hospital.

But this time around, I really haven’t had anything that I would consider to be strong impressions either way about the future health of this child. I really don’t know if I’m going to have a healthy active daughter, a death, or something in between. I’ve received impressions that Brynn’s experience was preparatory for this . . . and could make the assumption that it’s not often the preparation is easier than what you’re being prepared for. But on the other hand, the experience with Brynn is giving me much more insight to my body, when I’m having contractions, what meds I am willing to take, etc. So maybe the preparation really was so that I would have the correct instinct to make good decisions this go around in order to create a better outcome. Really, who knows. The guessing game could go either way.

So these were the conclusions I came to for now regarding faith and hope.

Hope in Christ, to me, means choosing to believe that He will make our burdens—whatever they are—manageable for us to bear. Things we think “Oh, I could never handle,” can really become our norms. Like a tube fed child, for example . . . I thought just a little over a year ago that it was the worst possible outcome for Brynn, but now it’s just my everyday norm! And that’s wonderful. Christ makes us equal to whatever task He has in store for us.

And in conclusion, faith—especially in a circumstance like now when I’m not really receiving any assurances about the future health of this baby—really means I just have to live in the now. Today. One day at a time. I have to focus on the fact that Christ will make me able to bear whatever is in store. I can’t focus on either excessive worry or over-optimism. I just have to focus on today.

After all, Christ did say, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” (Matthew 6:34)

And that is faith.

Well, that is what faith means to me now. Obviously, the Lord has more in store for me to learn.

For example, one thing that caught me off guard was the fill in for the following blank: “by faith, all things are ______________.” I thought the blank was filled in with by faith, all things are possible.” But my friend Lori, who stayed up very late with me while I was uncomfortable on the mag, read something from the scriptures as we discussed the topic together—and what she read took me by surprise. She read “by faith all things are fulfilled” (Ether 12:3,11). I’ll be pondering on that for the next few weeks and months. Perhaps you can ponder with me.

What are your thoughts on faith?


Anna said...

Natalie, I am learning so much from you! Isn't it amazing how strong you become when you don't have much of a choice? I always say, "hope for the best, plan for the worst." That way, you are being optimistic and having faith and hope, but you are also realistic. And then, whatever happens, you are prepared. And one thing that I learned over and over from my own NICU experience is that everything will turn out fine--you just don't know what "fine" is until you get there.

Keep up the good work, Natalie! You're so strong and capable. I'll keep up the prayers!

Anna said...

Oh, one more thing....
President Monson said in the fall 2008 General Conference, "...the Lord will shape the back to bear the burden placed upon it." AMAZING, isn't it? And what a strong back you have! Thank goodness for our source of strength, the Savior, right?

Brady and Rachel said...

Natalie, WOW! I have no doubt the Lord has prepared you and continues to prepare you for all that you are facing, and you will be blessed beyond measure (though I don't know what those blessings will be particularly). I always thought I had been blessed with a lot of faith. You know how in the scriptures (can't remember where) it talks about all the gifts many people are blessed with, some with the gift of healing, some with the gift of tongues, some with the gift of faith, etc. I felt as a child that I had been blessed with a gift of faith that I never doubted the truth of the gospel, etc. \ But the faith I see in you just BLOWS MY MIND! Your faith is a blessing to me in many ways! Thank you. My favorite scripture as a child and growing up that has helped me through the trials I've faced, though small in comparison to yours at this time, is : Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths." You are a great example of this. Prayers will continue to go up to our Father in Heaven in your behalf. I pray also that the sickness can continue to be bearable and you will find comfort through it all. I pray that you will feel his arms around you at times when you need it most. You are so right, hope and faith go hand in hand. Stay in there much longer sweet baby girl!!

Unknown said...

It is the middle of the night and I can't sleep. I wish I could come and sit by you right at this moment. I'd braid your hair, tell you stories, rub your feet or just hold your hand.

I don't know if I have anything to add to this conversation. We've been through some difficult times lately with Glenn's accident and rehabilitation. Through it all, and especially in moments when I felt like I was alone, I found faith that all would be well. I wish I could say that that faith and hope stayed with me through the entire process. Glenn's first memories in the ER are filled with memories of trust in the Lord, mine are not. It took me a few days more to first feel peace and trust, and I needed several reminders throughout the entire ordeal. But, no matter how many times I would forget the miracle that the Lord was working in our lives, He was always there to pick me up, send his love and remind me to trust in Him.