Don’t we all ask that question at least once in our lives? (Hopefully it’s a fairly regular self-reflection.) We want to know where we stand with the Lord. We want an honest inventory.
Today was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Perhaps consequently, perhaps not, I recalled a story of him during a quiet moment today. It was during a moment when I was struggling with wondering where I stood with the Lord. I had received some intense pushback in this vision I have. I was hurting pretty badly because, due to the experiences I have faced, rejection is something that is particularly triggering and can be hard for me to handle well. I have the head knowledge to handle it but it sometimes doesn’t get to my heart. So as I was struggling, I began to pray for strength, questioning yet again if I was doing what I should be doing with all this “church trauma” stuff. It is so foreign to many, after all, and I have been called so many names over the years, as if I chose this journey–well, I have chosen to speak up and be a voice but I DID NOT choose to be traumatized–I didn’t choose this arduous journey. While I was so anguishing, this story of my friend Martin Luther King came to mind:
Almost immediately after the [bus boycott] started, we had begun to receive threatening telephone calls and letters. They increased as time went on. . . . One night . . . I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. . . . . . . I had heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me. . . . I went to the kitchen and . . . I sat there and thought. . . . . And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. . . . With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud . . . : “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. . . . I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.” I tell you . . . I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything (King, Autobiography, 76–78).
Have you ever had moments like that? where you felt your faith had been tried and exhausted to the end and you needed very direct intervention? Several figures in the scriptures have: Job, Elijah, the Savior, Enos, Alma, Sariah, Joseph of old, Nehemiah…I could go on… I think all earnest seekers of God experience such hours of extremity at some point in their discipleship.
I too have felt those moments of extremities. More than I sometimes wish to admit. But after I reflected on that story, I recalled an experience I am going to share. As I do so, please take the message and not the messenger, for it’s always to God we look to in these stories, not the teller:
It was evening and I suddenly felt fearful of some stiff opposition I was facing. I won’t say what the opposition was but suddenly I felt overcome with fear in dealing with it and the aftermath I knew would inevitably follow. Yet, I knew I had to face it straight on the next day. I was scared. I didn’t think I could do it. I had no more fight in me (plus I didn’t have a voice in it anyway). Since I was the only one home, I went into my room and dropped to my knees in earnest prayer: “Where am I Lord? Thou knows how hard I’ve been trying to follow Thee faithfully and fearlessly but I’ve lost my confidence on where I stand with Thee right now. Help me know.” I got up from my prayer and grabbed my Mother Teresa book. Sometimes during moments like these, I find myself saying, “I need a little Mother Teresa!” I had barely started to read when my phone rang. I hesitated to see who it was–I was in no mood for conversation with anyone but the Lord. But then to my astonishment, I saw it was a friend who was scheduled for baptism. She lived in a different state. I daresay she is the only one I would have picked up the phone for at that moment. Her words astonished me: “Do you know what I told the missionaries just now? I told them, ‘I am not getting baptized because of you guys. I am getting baptized because a few years ago I met someone who didn’t care that I was black; she didn’t care that I wasn’t Mormon; she didn’t care that I wasn’t a U.S. citizen or that I had no money. All she cared about was that I knew she loved me, no strings attached. Anyone who has that kind of character has God in her and I want what she has. That power comes from what your Church offers. I know that. That’s why I’m getting baptized.’ God is with you, Danna, and you know it.” I was dumbfounded. I knew without a doubt that the Lord had just spoken to me through her. I felt it from the top of my head all the way down to my toes. I said to her quietly, “Thank you, dear friend. Through you, the Lord has given me the strength I need to face tomorrow.” And I did have all the strength I needed–plus! I went that next day with a big smile. I was joyful through it all. The intended pain didn’t even penetrate. Not even an ounce. My own happiness astonished me.
It is my repeated witness from the Lord that we have to stand up for truth and right at all costs. I love what Abraham Lincoln said, “All through life, be sure to put your feet in the right place and then stand firm” (Memory from Horatio Taft, in David Von Drehle, Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and American’s Most Perilous Year, 111-12). We must find the courage and the strength to be defenders of all that is true and virtuous. Get our “errand from the Lord” and then move forward (Jacob 1:17)! We can do it with His help!!