Hard Hearts and Hard Times

Before you read this, please note that it's fictional. This is not a true story. It's not about me. This never happened. It also talks about infant loss and is really sad.

It gets happy, but it's sad first.

The day I lost my baby, I was so full of anger that there was no room for grief or loss. It was simply anger—anger that God teased me with the world’s greatest miracle only to steal it from my fingers in a traumatic show of sirens screaming outside my house, strangers shuttling my children to school for days, and me lying in a hospital bed with blood transfusions while I healed from the labor, the delivery, the death.

When I returned home, my anger consumed me. I couldn’t function. If my kids were fed, I don’t remember it. The days passed by in a blur. I don’t have a single memory of those months. The pictures are still hidden away.

But there is a beast far more difficult to fight than anger at God. That beast is guilt about your anger at God.

I was raised in the church. I knew the doctrine. I had spent the last two years teaching the young women about their future roles as mothers and the different ways that might look. I preached to them each Sunday about “standing as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places.”

But not me. I had no faith beside a coffin exactly 21 inches long. I had no faith at the gravesite. I had no faith the next Sunday when I asked to be released, or any of the following days for a long, long time.

Families are forever. That line was as familiar to me as my last name. I should have been able to handle it better. But I wasn’t. I was angry. After all, nobody ever told me that becoming a mother would require me to teach my four-year-old about death, repeatedly answering his questions with, “No, honey, the baby’s not coming home. He’s up in Heaven,” and trying to not sound resentful when I explained that despite the billions of angels beside Him, for some reason, God needed my baby boy more than me.

I was angry, and I felt guilty. I knew it was a test of faith, and I knew that I was failing. Me, the seminary graduate, the temple married, the active member, the woman who taught her children about of the faith of Moroni and Ammon and Nephi. No. I was nothing more than Nephi’s wicked brother.

One day, I lay on my bed, tired, heavy, not wanting to shower or eat, not wanting to talk to my kids, the TV rotating through cartoons they had seen dozens of times. The bills weren’t paid, the dishes weren’t washed, my bed wasn’t made. My eyes found the nightstand. A single item was added to my list by a voice not my own. My scriptures weren’t read.

It was time.

I slowly took the book from my bedside. It had been so long since I had read that I didn’t even know where I had left off. I flipped through the thin pages, overwhelmed with the notes from things I used to know, faith that now seemed to mock me.

I considered starting again, but rejected that idea. I didn’t want to read about Laman and Lemuel. I knew I was like them, hard-hearted, stiff-necked, and full of constant murmuring.

But the Spirit urged me to read from the beginning.

Begrudgingly, I turned to the start. I read about Lehi, the pillar of fire, and his family’s persecution. The short chapter took maybe thirty seconds. There was no peace, no answer to my prayers, nothing more than I learned the hundreds of other times I had read the story of Nephi.

I almost shut the book. But then I felt it. The smallest twinge of faith. Heavenly Father had an answer to my prayers, and I would find it in the scriptures.

I continued reading.

Chapter Two. My eyes fell upon the familiar words quickly. Lehi’s family departs. They leave their precious things. They travel to the Red Sea. Lehi builds an altar. I skimmed even quicker the lesson from Lehi to his sons about fountains and firmness and steadfastness. It only pierced my guilt more. I read as Laman and Lemuel murmured.

And then Nephi, young but large in stature, prays.

That verse was the answer to my months of unsaid prayers.

I read it again, slowly this time. “And it came to pass that I, Nephi […] did cry unto the Lord; and behold, he did visit me, and did soften my heart.”

Let me explain. After the prayer, the Lord softened Nephi’s heart. That means that before the prayer, Nephi’s heart wasn’t soft.

I was still for a long time before I allowed my mind to form the question, “Was Nephi’s heart hard?” Maybe, I thought to myself, Nephi didn’t want to leave Jerusalem either. Maybe he had far more in common with Laman and Lemuel than I had ever thought.

My whole life I had imagined Nephi one way and Laman and Lemuel another. They were like night and day, complete opposites. Faithful, faithless. Righteous, wicked. And not only that, but Nephi was always righteous, and Laman and Lemuel were always wicked. No matter the call, Nephi went without hesitation. Laman and Lemuel didn’t.

I think I was wrong.

I realized that day I had something in common with Laman and Lemuel and Nephi.

The Lord had asked something difficult of us. None of us liked it at first. All of our hearts were a little bit hard as we struggled to understand.

That, in itself, didn’t make us wicked or bad of faithless.

The Spirit repeated those words to me. You are not wicked or bad or faithless.

With those words, my guilt was gone.

This lesson helps me to this day. It is okay to be confused. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to wish that life weren’t so hard. Mortality was designed to test us in many different ways. We were not sent to Earth and commanded to never have hard hearts, to avoid every unpleasant emotion in the face of all adversity.

We were asked to deal with those unpleasant emotions with faith.

That was not the last time I experienced something difficult. Nor was it the last time I felt anger, confusion, rejection, despair, or emotions so deep and so black and so heavy that I can’t even name them. The feelings still come, for reasons large and small. When they come, I acknowledge them. I acknowledge that my heart feels a little bit hard, and I remind myself that I am in very good company. Just like Nephi, I have been asked to do something difficult. Just like Nephi, it is a tough decision to make. But just like Nephi, I can plead unto to the Lord.

Just like Nephi, He will answer my prayers.

And just like Nephi, He will answer yours.

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