God can seem like an impersonal, unknowable being in the sky. But we can find peace during our hardest times as we seek to understand him as our Father, who loves us individually.
My pre-teenage concept of God was perhaps a little irreverent, but it nonetheless sculpted my dutiful, strained relationship with my Creator. I had always believed God existed. I had inexplicably sensed his presence. But I didn’t like him.
Jesus, though—Jesus I could get behind. I believed he loved me, cared about my life, wanted humanity’s happiness. God I saw differently. I felt that he left the dirty work to Christ. He appeared uninvolved, except when he wanted to throw you a curve ball. And he seemed distant and lazy in his expectation that Christ would create the earth, suffer infinite pain, and then give all the credit to a Father who sat back and watched. It seemed unjust to me.
Yet despite my disapproval, I was obedient. I prayed to God, all the time thinking I did it for the Savior, like spouses who ingratiate themselves to self-absorbed in-laws for the sake of the spouse. I patted myself on the back for my tolerance.
I don’t know how early these opinions developed, but they were ingrained when at age eleven I watched the April 2002 general conference. In that conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland presented the concept of “The Other Prodigal,” exposing our limited perspectives of justice and of our Father’s love.
Engulfed in the darkness of the chapel, I sat on the front pew to the left, legs folded beneath me, notebook resting on my lap. Suddenly I felt a resurgence in my spirit, the spirit that knew God intimately from a previous time in his perfect presence.
I don’t recall specific words that opened my heart. Perhaps it was Elder Holland’s point that our skewed view of fair judgment leads to a “resentful, demeaning view of God.” Whatever it may have been, my soul felt God’s warmth and witnessed that his merciful, brilliant character filled the details of my life. Although this moment instigated healing in my relationship with Heavenly Father, it didn’t seem to upheave my belief system; I just kept living life, unaware of how my heart was gradually changing. Little by little, the surety of God’s love created a foundation I would desperately need in the waves of life’s perceived injustices.
I didn’t foresee that over the next few years I would watch haggard fathers unable to make ends meet despite their toil. That I would witness faithful family members stagger under the weight of profound depression. That I would weep with friends who desired to keep their covenants while feeling conflicted with same-sex attraction. That I would console a mother bewailing the violent crimes committed against her child. That I would watch a brother and his wife lose two infants within nine months. That I would stand at the bedside of an emaciated nine-year-old the day before he concluded his lifelong battle with cancer.
When I heard Elder Holland speak in April 2002, I did not anticipate this life of sorrow. I did not realize that knowing that God is our loving Heavenly Father would be my rock foundation when the world crumbled into chaos. But mercifully, that crucial shift in perspective came because one April, an apostle stood, my spirit listened, and God spoke a miracle through him.
Watch or read Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk “The Other Prodigal.”
Source: LDS general conference
—Elisabeth Muldowney, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
feature image by gaspar torriero / cc by-sa 2.0 / unaltered
Find more insights
Read Linda Clyde’s LDS.org blog post “Do You Have a Relationship with God? Maybe It’s Time for a Spiritual Checkup.”
See the 16th chapter of the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor manual, “Strengthening Our Relationship with God.”
Read LDS.org’s topic section “God Is Our Father” to learn more about God’s nature and our relationship with him.
Read Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s 1982 BYU speech “Our Relationship with the Lord.”
This article was selected as one of three winners in the Winter 2016 Submission Contest for Mormon Insights. The work is original and is a true story from the life of the author. We are grateful for the contributions and encourage interested authors to look for future submission contests.