Advent is the beginning of the Christmas season. I love this Christmas carol and how it speaks of “the thrill of hope” the world experienced when Christ was born. Being faced with all kinds of changes this Christmas season, it has been really important for me to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and all the amazing blessings this brings. I have spent some extra time reading and learning about Christ, how we celebrate, and the meaning of Christmas. Every week of Advent traditionally has a theme. The first week’s theme is Hope. Over the past several years my hope slowly started to disintegrate until finally a few years ago I hit the bottom and had lost all hope. During that time I turned to my Savior and Heavenly Father for help.
While I have been very spiritual all of my life, I had slowly isolated myself from Christ, Heavenly Father, friends and family. I was consumed with my kids, my husband and my career and honestly was barely able to keep these things afloat. As my life made a turn for the worse I turned to my Heavenly Father and began praying frequently and fervently for guidance. This was the start of a four year journey back to my roots, rebuilding my testimony in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and re-establishing a close relationship with Christ.
Reflecting on this during the first week of advent and studying and praying about hope I came to the understanding that rekindling my hope consists of four things:
H = Healing
O = Open Heart
P = Prayer
E = Eternal View
As I first started to study the scriptures and learn more about the Atonement, faith, and forgiveness, I began to really struggle with some questions. What does turn the other cheek, or forsake thyself to server others, or be Christlike, really mean. This is when I became convinced that it isn’t enough to know and understand the Atonement, or to have faith. I think knowing these things is very similar to knowing how to eat right and exercise to lose weight. We all know the right things to do but that is not all there is to it. My faith grew every day and I could easily see how the Atonement and Christ’s pure love applied to people I loved and cared about. But I had trouble applying it to myself. I had to focus on healing past trauma and learn how to build self confidence and love of self. This was the only way to help me change behaviors that were causing me to get in my own way.
In one of my favorite conference talks Do We Trust Him? Hard is Good by Elder Stanley G. Ellis he asks “Do we have the faith to trust His promises regarding tithing that with 90 percent of our increase plus the Lord’s help, we are better off than with 100 percent on our own? Do we have sufficient faith to trust that He will visit us in our afflictions (see Mosiah 24:14), that He will contend with those that contend with us (see Isaiah 49:25; 2 Nephi 6:17), and that He will consecrate our afflictions for our gain? (see 2 Nephi 2:2).” I wasn’t able to have this kind of trust and faith in God’s promises until I was able to restore my trust and love of self and rebuild my relationship with Christ and Heavenly Father.
Past trauma’s exist for all of us. For some they can be truly debilitating. For most of us they get in the way and surface as limiting beliefs that hold us back from realizing our full potential or having and building healthy relationships. For all of us they impact our ability to feel hope at one time or another. The more we invest in our own healing the more connected we become to our inner strength and the hope of Christ.
As I began to trust God I opened my heart to really focus on forgiveness but also to really listen to the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost. Forgiveness was easy for me. I am not one to hold a grudge or retaliate against someone. What was hard for me was recognizing that forgiveness didn’t include automatically giving trust or respect.
These are earned and not automatic with forgiving. While forgiveness releases anger and any ill will toward someone, it doesn’t mean you approve of their behavior or will continue to subject yourself to it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t need boundaries. In fact it is the opposite, it means you open your heart to loving and caring, that you have genuine empathy, and you respect others’ boundaries as well as your own. It doesn’t mean you take on someone else’s burdens or take on their suffering.
Forgiveness frees up space to allow more positive things into our lives. Opening your heart is an amazing gift that allows you to love and respect all of God’s children, to listen and seek to understand their needs, and do your best to provide them with service and unconditional love, while at the same time honoring their boundaries and yours. Keeping an open heart and staying in tune with the Holy Ghost to receive guidance, gives us direction and sets us free to feel hope.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” – John 8:32
Prayer is our communication tool to keep the channels with our Heavenly Father open. I know our Heavenly Father listens and answers our prayers. Praying helps us build a relationship with our Father in Heaven. He has also given us the gift of receiving priesthood blessings. In a few of the blessings I have received, in past months, I have been blessed with patience.
There is no question I need this extra attention and focus on patience. As I have invested more in my relationship with my Heavenly Father and continue to ask for his guidance and direction, I have become more at peace with knowing answers may not come in the form and timing I would like them to. This requires greater emotional IQ and an ability to sit back and recognize emotions are indicators. It is important to feel our way through them and pray for help in knowing what they are telling us and how to navigate our way.
I pray more often now and for guidance on things I would have never even considered before. For example, I have always been a planner and list maker but for some reason it never occurred to me to make my list and then sit quietly in prayer and ask for guidance on my priorities and if I am focusing on the right things in any given day. It seems silly to me now that praying about this hadn’t occurred to me before. When in the past I often felt anxious and stressed about accomplishing the things on my list, now I feel calm and at ease, knowing I have my Heavenly Father’s guidance and support to accomplish the things I need to.
“It came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened” – Luke 3:21
I truly love my relationship with my Heavenly Father and the connection prayer offers me. It is a sacred moment when the heavens are opened to me and I feel His love. My faith in Him gives me hope.
Lastly, having an eternal view gives us hope. It has only recently occurred to me that there are some who struggle with believing they have a purpose in life. I have always felt I had a purpose. I honestly thought it was a natural inclination we are all born with. Where I lost hope was when my actions were taking me away from my purpose.
While shifting my focus from immediate wants and desires can be challenging, I have found when I invest my efforts in learning and developing those things that last eternally I have a greater sense of hope. Nurturing my spiritual needs and satisfying that hunger within regardless of what is going on around me, keeps me grounded and full of hope.
“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18
So while I continue on this journey it feels good to honestly say my hope has been restored, I am full of optimism, joy, and happiness. I am excited to see what my future holds and am back to truly enjoying the journey with all of its twists, turns, ups and downs. The downs don’t frighten me anymore, I allow them to teach me.
Now I know my Heavenly Father was sending me a wake up call because he had bigger plans for me. It wasn’t until I understood the value of boundaries and the importance of knowing joy and happiness don’t depend on what is going on outside of me but is derived from within and my connection to Heavenly Father. Knowing this allowed me to build trust in myself and trust that Heavenly Father’s promises also applied to me.
In an Ensign article entitled You Are Royalty, by Kathy Kipp Clayton she states “We have God’s spiritual DNA coursing through our veins. We are His sons and daughters and His heirs. Swat away any deceiving messages, beliefs, or habits that cause you to cower in the corners of your life. Don’t let them nip at your heels and make you feel fearful or hurt. Rise to the level of your eternal stature. You are royalty.” I love that eternal view. As I think about this and all the blessings Christ’s birth has brought us, I am filled with gratitude and peace which is the focus for the second week of advent.
Much Love, Kim