Finding blessings in the wilderness

We are two weeks into home schooling, home churching, and social distancing and it’s been interesting. My son showed me a meme the other day that said: “Day 2 without sports. I found a woman sitting on my couch. Apparently she’s my wife. She seems nice.” That made me laugh. Oh what a unique experience we are having! Here are a few snapshots of life at our house with 2 parents and 4 kids at home:

—Her feet are touching mine!

—I miss my friends. 

—I feel trapped.

—It’s my turn on the computer!

—Can you stop making that noise? I am trying to work!”

—Stop touching me

—That assignment was due when? 

—I just want things to go back to normal

—And the low point when our printer stopped working and I had 3 kids needing homework sheets printed I got this message online: “You are now number 175 in line to speak with a representative.” I never got ahold of that representative.

It has been hard! We miss our normal life, our routine, our freedoms and predictability. I miss going out on date night with my husband and having a little quiet during the day. My kids miss their teachers, friends, and teams. We have had to cancel our spring break trip to Havasupai, something I’ve wanted to do for 20 years. It’s hard being cooped up together all day and all night when kids are still learning the art of conflict negotiation and respecting personal space. And yet, this is our new normal, for now at least.

Yes, it is hard. And yet, there are also some incredible blessings. 

A few days ago I was reading a scripture message with our kids out of a book called “Don’t Miss This” that expands on one verse at a time from the Book of Mormon.  Here was the verse that came up, from the perspective of Laman and Lemuel in the wilderness:

1 Nephi 17:21 “Behold these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea and we might have been happy.” Lehi’s family had left their comforts, their freedoms, their social gatherings, and everything they knew. They were in their wilderness with all its discomfort and isolation. Laman and Lemuel saw the hard stuff. It was uncomfortable and the food was boring and they missed their normal life.

Nephi on the other hand gave us an example of another way. Of the exact same journey, in the exact same chapter, Nephi writes: “great were the blessings of the Lord upon us.” 

We are having a wilderness experience. I actually looked up the definition of wilderness and this is what I found: “a neglected or abandoned area of a garden or town.” How true is that?  I’ve caught myself murmuring about the situation. And my hard things are really just minor inconveniences. There are people out there who are really sick. There are people who have lost loved ones. There are thousands who are being separated from spouses and children. There are missionaries who want to serve who have been sent home.

It is a challenging and scary time. 

Yet I believe we too can experience great blessings in our period of isolation and uncertainty. There will be miracles, even. Here are some of the little miracles I have seen so far:

—A prophet who knew we were going to need to depend on our own faith and diligence, who knew to prepare us with resources to study the gospel at home

—Watching my husband bless the sacrament and my son pass it to our family members in our own living room

—Siblings bonding over family outings, games, comedy sketches, and movies

—A newfound love of chess in our home—something we had never played with our kids before and now it seems they can’t get enough

—A neighborhood finding ways to connect through teddy bear hunts and pictures in windows and candles of unity lit on porches

—Acts of service and little gifts left on doorsteps

—More time to have family scripture study together along with time to pray and even meditate together. 

I have struggled with this new normal in many ways and I wouldn’t have chosen it.  At the same time I am so grateful for the opportunities my family is having to grow closer and stronger together. 

In Matthew we learn about ten virgins awaiting a bridegroom, who represents Christ. Five of the virgins had plenty of oil to keep their lamps lit, while the other five ran out of oil. They could not get oil from the others but needed to rely on their own preparation. This story is about us. The oil represents our own spiritual strength. This is our time to decide—will we be spiritually strong on our own? Are we doing what we need to do to keep our lamps lit in the darkness?

The Lord said in D&C 33:17  “Be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom.”

I am so grateful for my opportunity to fill my lamp at home during this unique season. I am grateful for a prophet who has prepared us. Our Father in Heaven is watching over us and he will bless us as we are faithful. We can choose to be diligent disciples at this crucial time. Life has slowed down. Gone are the hectic schedules and carpools and sporting we are being given is time and space to focus in on what matters most. God is essentially removing many of the obstacles that may normally distract us. We can work on filling our lamps while we wait to be done with this season of wilderness.

Here are a few ways we can do it: 

  1. Pray more and pray sincerely. We have time. Enos is a wonderful example of someone who didn’t say a quick repetitive prayer and turn out the lights. He poured his heart and soul out to God and waited for a reply. He was earnest and sincere in desiring to know the Lord’s will. He even described his experience as a “wrestle” to know. He says “my soul hungered” and that he cried all the day and then into the night to know if his sins had been forgiven. 
  2. Listen for a response. How often do we take time to listen and be still? Enos waited all day for his answer. Then God finally spoke to him and answered his plea. Enos asked how it was done and God responded “Because of thy faith in Christ.” Enos had that kind of faith to know if he listened and waited, and kept listening, God would show up. I think most of us probably aren’t very good at being still and listening. We live a fast-paced life where we don’t have to wait for much—thanks to things like one day delivery and instant streaming of our favorite shows. We are over scheduled and exhausted much of the time. But if we show up for God, he will show up for us. He has told us, repeatedly in the scriptures: “Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Now more than ever we have the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our Father in Heaven and His Son. 
  3. Study. What a wonderful time to take full advantage of our spiritual resources. They have been poured out upon us. We have the scriptures. We have a Come Follow Me online manual that guides us through weekly discussions of the scriptures. We have amazing Book of Mormon videos that we can watch with the click of a button on our computer. We have all the conference addresses that have ever been given in any form we want—we can read, listen or watch! 
  4. Tune in. Conference is coming up next Sunday. It was promised to be one we will never forget, and I already know that will be true. I don’t think I have ever been so curious and excited about hearing from our leaders than I am right now. We know we have a prophet who has received and will continue to receive revelation from on high. What an incredible blessing we have—to know we have a living, breathing church with all the guidance we need ready to be poured out upon us. 
  5. Serve. I am always struck by the last conversation Christ had with Peter before he left the earth. He asked Peter three times: “Lovest thou me?” Peter said yes repeatedly. Christ gave the same answer over and over again: Feed my sheep. What he meant was, take care of each other. You are my hands now. The more we seek to love and serve each other, the more of His Spirit we will feel. I have seen it already as people are reaching out to love from a distance. I have seen it in people who are showing up at work to help make sure we can still get our packages and groceries and medical help. I have seen siblings and friends and neighbors support each other with heart attacks on doors and letters of encouragement and dinners over FaceTime. As we do that, we will be blessed.

Yes we are in challenging times but with those challenges come wonderful blessings and opportunities. I hope that we can use our time well and fill our lamps. Let’s strengthen our own spiritual muscles and enjoy our time at home with our families. We can rise above the hardships and know that our Savior is always there for us. He promised us this:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:26–27). … In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

That is so comforting to me. He is with us. He will see us through. He has and will overcome. We will get through this season and hopefully come out better and stronger and closer to our Father in Heaven for it.

Bonding in our time of isolation.

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