[I spoke in church last Sunday. These were my words.]
I love to sing. When I was a freshman in college, I wanted to sing in a choir, but I wasn’t a vocal performance or music major, so I joined the only choir at my university for ordinary people, called University Chorale. Our instructor was really fun, and I sang with that choir several semesters.
I remember one of the songs we sang in University Chorale very vividly. The song was commissioned by a Jewish Rabbi in 1988 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Kristallnacht. Kristallnacht is German for “crystal night.” The name comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets of Germany after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, homes, schools, hospitals, and synagogues were smashed and the buildings demolished with sledgehammers. Hundreds of Jews were murdered that night alone or later died from their injuries or suicide, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and placed in concentration camps. Kristallnacht is considered by historians to be one of the pivotal events that began the Holocaust.
The song written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht was composed by an American Jewish composer named Michael Horvit. The lyrics for the song came from words that were found scrawled on a wall in Germany at the end of World War II. They read:
I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even when feeling it not.
I believe in God, even when God is silent.
When we learned and performed the song, I was only 18 or 19 years old. It touched me, and it made my heart ache for the Jews and the atrocities they suffered, but I couldn’t really relate to it. I mean, I had a pretty painful childhood, but even in my hard times I always knew God loved me, and I always felt like God had my back. Feeling God’s love and hearing God’s voice were everyday occurrences for me growing up. Especially during my freshman year in college, I felt like I was flooded with the Spirit all day every day. I couldn’t even imagine what it would feel like for God to be silent. And I certainly never imagined it would ever happen to me.
So I sang the song with the choir, and I loved it, but I had no idea what it was really about. In case you are wondering, the song is called “Even When God Is Silent.” It is a hauntingly beautiful song, and I highly encourage you to look it up on YouTube or iTunes if you haven’t heard it before.
**Here’s a video I found:
I will get back to my story in a moment, but I want to stop now and ask:
What does it really mean to trust God?
Elder Richard G. Scott said that “This life is an experience in profound trust—trust in Jesus Christ, trust in His teachings, trust in our capacity as led by the Holy Spirit to obey those teachings.” We talk about trusting God, we read about trusting God, we encourage each other to trust God, but what does it really mean? And what is profound trust? These are the questions I have been pondering throughout the past week, and I will probably continue to ponder them for the rest of my life.
Earlier this week, I was re-reading several chapters in 1 Nephi. I started where Lehi was directed by the Lord to send his sons back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates. So Nephi and his brothers go back. And first Laman asks Laban if they can have the plates. Laban says, “No way. And I’m going to kill you.” Laman runs for his life, somehow survives, and goes back to tell his brothers what happened.
The scriptures say that at this point the brothers all “began to be exceedingly sorrowful.” I don’t blame them one bit. They had all exhibited trust in the Lord when they followed the command to go back to Jerusalem. Laman had exhibited trust in the Lord when he was willing to risk his own life to ask Laban for the brass plates. They had made a valiant effort! And it hadn’t worked. Now this is where I think the profound trust Elder Scott mentioned came into play.
In that moment of doubt and confusion and sorrow when it seemed like all was lost, Laman and Lemuel wanted to give up and go home, but Nephi said, “NO!”
As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us.
That is what I think profound trust looks like. Profound trust isn’t something you have when things are going well. Laman and Lemuel trusted God… as long as everything was going the way they expected. I am often the very same way. But what about when all of your hope has dried up? What about when you are lost and confused and exhausted? What about when you are doing everything in your power to obey God but it doesn’t seem to help, and maybe it even seems to hurt?
Remember that Nephi and his brothers tried again. They brought all of their riches to Laban as payment for the brass plates, and he stole everything they had and tried to kill them again.
Ultimately, the third time was the charm for Nephi and his brothers and the Lord created a way for them to receive the plates. So why did he allow them to fail twice? It’s certainly something to ponder.
Can we really blame them for feeling doubtful, confused, angry, or abandoned? Those are the moments in life when many of us shake our fists at God. We wonder or maybe even shout, “Where are you?!” Even Joseph Smith had his moments when he called out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”
So back to the story about my innocent and naïve 18-year-old self… About a year later, I met Reid Axman. After a while of dating, I decided to marry him instead of serving a mission. We had two kids while Reid was in graduate school. We moved to Laveen, Arizona in 2007. We had two more kids while we lived in Laveen.
And then in 2012, after several really stressful years and the loss of a grandmother I was very close to, I cracked. My mind and body were suddenly and completely hijacked by a freight train of anxiety and depression. I can’t even describe to you how scary and difficult that time was. But after what felt like much too long, I recovered. Then 2014 happened.
2014 was the year that I learned more intimately than I ever wanted to know and more intensely than I had ever experienced before… what darkness feels like. 2014 was the year that I learned that you can be doing everything “right”—obeying the commandments, going to Church, reading the scriptures, attending the temple, praying, serving others, obeying the word of wisdom, doing your Church callings, taking care of your family—and despite doing all of those things, you can feel completely cut off from the Spirit, completely miserable, and you can even wish for death.
In no way am I trying to say that my experience was anything like what the Jews experienced during the Holocaust. How could I even compare? But what I am saying is that—in my little world of experience—2014 was when I finally understood what that song I had learned as an 18-year-old really meant. Because in my little world, the sun was not shining. And in my little world, I couldn’t feel the love of God. And in my little world, I couldn’t hear God’s voice. And it was absolutely horrifying. And it felt at times like I would never see or feel or hear those things again.
How do you trust God when you cannot hear Him? How do you trust God when you cannot feel His Spirit?
Earlier this week, as I read and pondered this topic, I came across a statement on the Internet. I don’t remember the source, but this person said: “Trust in God means that no matter what happens, you will turn to Him instead of away.” I think that statement is perhaps the best definition we could find for profound trust in the Lord.
Profound trust is not something you develop when you’re comfortable. Profound trust in the Lord is something you develop when you are extremely, viscerally, profoundly uncomfortable. Trusting God is hard. But I can promise you this: If you will trust God, you will see miracles… Though sometimes the miracles you see are not the miracles you expected.
When Laman asked Laban for the brass plates, Laban wasn’t suddenly moved upon by the Spirit to say, “Yes.” That wasn’t the miracle Nephi and his brothers were given. But they weren’t killed, and they saw an angel, and eventually they were able to get the plates. Those were miracles. When I was battling intense anxiety and depression, I wanted to be instantly healed. I wanted the misery to go away… now. That was the miracle I wanted. That was not the miracle I received. But… I didn’t give up. Every day that I was still breathing was a miracle. I wanted to feel the Spirit and feel God’s love within my own heart and soul. Instead, when my spiritual antennae were temporarily malfunctioning, God sent His love and His voice to me through the people around me… over and over and over… until I could hear Him myself again. That was a miracle.
After everything I have experienced, you might think I have gotten better at trusting God. But I still struggle. Even now I am going through some things that have required me to try to muster a profound trust in God that I’m not even sure I can muster, and let me tell you… it has been really hard, and really scary. When I heard the topic I was assigned to speak about, I laughed out loud… because I am struggling, even now, to trust.
But I know God loves me. And I know I can trust in that love, no matter what happens to me. And I know I will see miracles, even if they aren’t the miracles I expect.
What I have discovered is that the song I learned all those years ago wasn’t quite right. God is never really silent. The poet Rumi said:
Each moment contains a hundred messages from God. To every cry of “Oh, God!” He answers a hundred times: “I am here.”
He is speaking to us, even when we feel deaf to His words. Sometimes we just might have to learn a sort of spiritual “sign language.”
If you are battling your own demons or darkness, and you aren’t sure if you can keep going, I get it. I get it. But I believe in you, and I know God believes in you, and I encourage you to look for His fingerprints. His fingerprints are everywhere in your life. He is reaching out to you… in small ways and big ways. I know God loves you. And I know God loves me. And I know we can trust in that.