A Challenge: Live a Perfect Week

Sunday Challenge for you all (including me): if you are struggling with anything (whether it’s temporal or spiritual, mental or emotional), consider trying to live a perfect week. Not perfect in respect to good things happening to you, but perfect before God. Fast from all your worldly needs and desires and especially all those things that would offend the Spirit (especially media: TV shows, movies, video games), even a tiny bit. Have that never-ceasing prayer in your heart and “always remember Him,” that you can have the Holy Ghost with you at all times.
I attempted this a couple weeks ago, and even though I ended up bungling it all by week’s end, it was still an incredibly valuable experience. I was struggling with a few things and it gave me much needed perspective. I found how much I emotionally rely on worldly things, including and especially the media mentioned above, and how much farther I really have to go towards that ultimate goal of soul-completion.
Above all it reminded me that the gospel and Atonement and the Spirit are all very real things. Try it and you’ll see what I mean. I believe you’ll find that it’s more possible than you might think.
(Thanks to Chris Heimerdinger, who first suggested this in one of his books, “Gadiantons and the Silver Sword.”)

Bearers of Heavenly Moonlight

A family member suggested to me a couple of weeks ago to take the time to read the talks from the most recent Priesthood session of General Conference. No cause, no particular reason for the suggestion at that time, not that I could tell. But still, it seemed good advice. I read one of the talks, was moved by it, but then put the Ensign down.

Last night, I had something of a breakdown. A few things I was heavily invested in did not pay off as I hoped they would. My fragile brain broke and went a lot of places I didn’t want it to go. When this happens—as someone with bipolar disorder, this does happen from time to time—I feel I’m in what I call a “black cloud,” where my brain chemistry gets off balance and I see every goal in my life as a failure, every situation with despair, every desire as wicked and unworthy on my part, every sin or transgression as putting me too far out of the reach of the Savior. It feels like I am in a cloud of darkness, unable to see any light at all and indeed literally impossible to feel the Spirit or God’s love. Usually I am able to work through it, and pass out the other side. It’s not always in my control and what dispels the cloud is always different, something I can’t predict but that God inevitably has waiting for me. When it’s gone, everything feels normal again and I wonder what on earth I was thinking. It’s like if you’ve suddenly noticed that you’ve been clenching your teeth hard for several minutes, and then you open your jaw and everything feels right again and you wonder why you were ever clenching your teeth that hard. It’s a scary feeling but it feels so liberating and peaceful when that immense pressure is lifted and your brain works normally again.

And I did reach that point last night. I did find peace again and the darkness was dispelled.

Today in the aftermath of the previous night’s breakdown, I was feeling a little aimless. The Ensign happened to be opened to President Uchtdorf’s message in that priesthood session, exactly what had been referred to me by that family member. The title of that talk was, “Bearers of Heavenly Light.” As someone who had just passed through a cloud of emotional and spiritual darkness, this meant something to me.

Especially when it got to this passage:

During my flights as an airline captain across our planet earth, I was always fascinated by the beauty and perfection of God’s creation. I found especially captivating the relationship between the earth and the sun. I consider it a profound object lesson of how darkness and light exist.

As we all know, within every 24 hours night turns to day and day turns to night.

So, then, what is night?

Night is nothing more than a shadow.

Even in the darkest of nights, the sun does not cease to radiate its light. It continues to shine as bright as ever. But half of the earth is in darkness.

The absence of light causes darkness.

I love this analogy. I always have. It’s not even really an analogy, but a deep and profound truth, the kind that works across many layers of the universe’s creation, a celestial, cosmological pattern. When it is nighttime and we are in darkness, it is not permanent. No matter the trial He calls us to go through, no matter the pain and loneliness, the sunlight of God’s love is always there, even if it is hidden from us for a time. And inevitably the earth will turn, a new day will come, and the light will shine in our faces and in our hearts again. And note—it comes from the heavens, from the celestial body itself.

But Elder Uchtdorf neglects to include an essential element of this analogy, this pattern. An element both material and symbolic: the symbol of moonlight.

When it is in the darkest part of night, the deepest and farthest away from heaven’s light, our hope and our faith need not be blind. We need not merely trust that sometime the darkness will end. We have physical proof that the sun still shines! The moon, that other celestial body, proves it. When you see the moon, you see the sun. For the light projecting from that lunar surface is not projecting at all, but reflecting. The moon is a mirror of God’s light and love, proof of His presence when He cannot be there with us directly. When through fiery trials our pathway may lie, we still have emblems of His love, knowledge that though He may not be right here, He is still near, and He has not left us alone. I used this symbol prominently in a story I wrote many years ago.

But it hit me personally in a very real way a long time ago, when I was dealing with bipolar disorder without the the help of medication. It was the middle of the night, and I was driving aimlessly wracked with despair. Playing in the CD player was a mix of orchestrated Final Fantasy music. At a crucial moment, a particular song came on: “You’re Not Alone,” a track played in Final Fantasy IX towards the end, when the main character has just learned a devastating truth about his origins and, after a lifetime of going out of his way to help other people, feels totally alone. This music plays while, one by one, his friends and party members rejoin him as he fights a sequence of terrible battles. A moment comes in the orchestrated version of this song that feels like a climax, around the 3:15 mark. Please listen so you can hear and hopefully feel what I’m talking about!

As I was saying, this song came on while I was driving, while I was crying and praying over the steering wheel. And as I said, I already held this symbol of moonlight in my heart from a novel I had finished recently. In yet another story I was working on, I always envisioned a scene with the above music playing. And at that 3:15 climax, one character declares to another character also suffering in a pit of despair, “Solihim Metagon! YOU ARE NOT ALONE!”

That point in the music came right as I was turning a corner. Right as the trees opened up, revealing a cloudless starry sky—and a full moon beaming down on me.

Of course I drove the rest of the way home in sobs. That was something like ten years ago. The bipolar still gets me. Not as bad as it used to, thank goodness. But that black cloud still creeps over my light from time to time, convinces me the nighttime is forever.

But even in nighttime, there is moonlight.

One of the three major symbols of my book The Hero Doctrine is, along with sword and shield, the “mirror.” The moon, as a reflector of the sun’s light, is a kind of mirror in its own right. In that book I ask the reader to become a “mirror of God.”

Elder Uchtdorf, though speaking to priesthood holders in this address, really asks the same of us:

As a bearer of God’s priesthood and as a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are a bearer of light. Keep doing the things that will nurture His divine light. “Hold up your light”13 and “let [it] shine before men”—not so that they will see and admire you, but “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”14

My dear brothers, you are instruments in the hands of the Lord with the purpose of bringing light and healing to the souls of Heavenly Father’s children. Perhaps you do not feel qualified to heal those who are spiritually ill—certainly not any more than a post office employee is qualified to help with arthritis. Maybe you face spiritual challenges of your own. Nevertheless, the Lord has called you. He has given you authority and responsibility to reach out to those in need. He has endowed you with His sacred priesthood power to bring light into the darkness and uplift and bless God’s children. God has restored His Church and His precious gospel, “which healeth the wounded soul.”15 He has prepared the path to spiritual wellness, to find healing from stagnation and move toward vibrant spiritual health.

In being mirrors of God and bearers of heavenly moonlight, we can be there for others when they are struggling. We can be there for someone to talk to, someone who will just listen to the pains and trials and temptations of others when they are in their nighttime.

Whose life can you light up today? Who needs to feel the love of God through you? Whom can you help come unto Christ so that their affliction, whether it be physical or emotional and spiritual, can be healed?

The moon, whenever it shines, is in a position where it can see the sun. When we are able to bask in sunlight, we are commanded, not by me or even Elder Uchtdorf but by Christ, the creator of the celestial bodies Himself, to reflect that light to those in the dark.

Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. (3 Nephi 18:24)