With all the humility I can muster, I confess, I have a true beef with God. Of the many questions I will ask upon my arrival into my next estate, one of the first will be, “Why wouldn’t you answer Mateo’s pleading prayers?”
Mateo suffers from bipolar disorder and now considers himself somewhere between a strong agnostic and a weak atheist. The strong agnosticism comes from about 10 desperate attempts to plead with God to know He is there and listening. Any kind of a manifestation would do. Of course, the pleading comes as he cycles through the depression part of his bipolar disorder which gets so bad that thoughts of taking his life are common.
When it Feels Like the Heavens Are Shut
Feeling like the heavens are shut completely is not uncommon among members of the Church. Since I have openly discussed Mateo, people have approached me to describe similar situations. One woman in my ward had heard from a friend that I was trying to “get to the bottom” of this problem and told me of her own struggles about feeling anything spiritually at all. She holds a high position in ward leadership and also suffers from mental illness.
She had gone to therapy over her anxiety and had been taught not to trust any feeling. This makes sense when several of the feelings she was having at the time had to do with her destruction (what if I die on my way to work, stuff like that). Once she stopped trusting all feelings, things got better. The problem was that distrusting all feelings included distrusting all spiritual feelings as well.
This left her in a lurch and required her to use a far greater amount of “think” and a far less amount of “feel” than she normally would have. There is strong scriptural support for favoring head over heart. In fact, for a Nephite, “heart” is mostly a brain function (Mosiah 2:9).
Over lunch with a friend, I was describing a rebuke I had received from the Holy Ghost that made me repent and act differently. He said, “I would give anything for a rebuke. At least then I would know I am known and considered. Do you know how hard it is to pray when there seems to be no response at all?” It had been three decades since he had had any kind of what he would call a spiritual experience.
Other friends have experienced nearly complete spiritual blockages from prescribed medications. One friend, in particular, told me of a period in her sister’s life where she got on a specific birth control medication. It so altered her personality and blocked all revelatory signals that she lost her marriage and discontinued her church membership. Once she was off the specific birth control, her spiritual peace and presence returned, although, unfortunately, the loss of her marriage was permanent.
As I have discussed this with seasoned church members who seem to have frequent communion with heaven, they tend to blame Mateo. “He is not praying right.” “He needs to be patient.” “He must be sinning.” “He does not have enough faith.” “He is getting answers from God, he just does not know how to recognize them.” I find each of these far too dismissive.
As we discuss these things, I ask them, “What is required of a soul that approaches God in prayer?” Are the choice of prayer language, sinlessness, even faithfulness requirements? It seems to me that sincere pleading is the only requirement; so why the silence?
One person pointed out the beginning of Section 121:1-2 where Joseph pleads to know where God is in all of the Saints’ sufferings,
O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
Indeed, Mateo is not the first to plead at the throne of God and ask where He is. Why this scripture is not relevant to Mateo is found five verses later:
My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
Joseph was satisfied, and the rest of Section 121 is pure gold that turned the temporary absence into a huge victory.
As Mateo sees it, God’s absence has lasted his entire life, no “small moment.”
I can’t relate. I have God experiences often daily and sometimes several times a day. Besides the rebuke I mentioned, I will get flashes of inspiration which include promptings of whom I should text or call in that moment. The results are unmistakable evidence that the prompting came from a divine source.
I am convinced that I have no privileged access. There is certainly an intent element in all this. God knows that on most things that I receive I will act. There is also a vulnerability element to this. There is little to no skepticism filtering the messages I receive. I do not say this to boast, only to contrast my high degree of satisfaction and Mateo’s dearth of the same.
I have frequently wondered why many Latinos like my grandfather receive prophetic dreams and I don’t. I believe to some degree that God gives dreams to them because of their willingness to believe and act on what is received. I believe my dreams are mostly nonsensical.
A Few Suggestions
Maybe you know someone who struggles with heavenly communication. If you do, here are some suggestions:
- Don’t act like a firefighter and your friend’s lack of communion with God as the fire.
- Seek spiritual guidance on how to help. Elder Scott gave relevant talks in October 1989, October 2009, and April 2012. These are important for backdrop knowledge.
- Don’t automatically assume sin or some other failing on your friend’s part.
- Listen intently and feel their struggle.
- Seek the guidance of the spirit to know what to say and how to help.
- Wrestle with God a bit in pleading on behalf of your friend.
If you are the person struggling, here are some suggestions:
- Although it is difficult, I encourage you to trust God’s timing.
- Elder Scott has given good advice that may help. See above.
- Take a deep dive into the Book of Mormon and let it speak for itself. Use NO commentary on it.
- Serve. For many, the breakthrough moment occurred when there was selfless service rendered.
- Cling to hope.
Will this result in a stream of revelation? I don’t know. It is why I started this article the way I did. I love Mateo and will be his close friend under all conditions. It pains me that he struggles with heavenly communion so much. I also trust God, and besides a wrestle or two or ten, I am confident the answers are there; I just don’t know or understand them.
Have you received personal revelation after a long struggle? Share your experience in the comments.