“Stop Crying and Get Up”

Many years ago I retreated to Rock Canyon just above the Provo temple to pray about something I was stressed out about that, in my adolescent universe, was a big screaming deal. I retired to the beautiful night-time scenery of the Utah Valley lights twinkling below in the twilight fully expecting some kind of comforting spiritual atta-boy shoulder rub, and if all responses to prayers are really just psychological wish fulfillment as some say, that is probably exactly what I would have gotten with enough time and energy. 

Instead I got something along the lines of “stop crying, and get up,” and felt a clear rebuke. Not at all what I was expecting.  

There is a strand of academic research that looks at what is called “God imagery,” or how we perceive and view God, whether he is, for example, a judge, or a friend, or a father figure. The answer, of course, is all of the above. One of my favorite Joseph Smith quotes is that 

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be.

He can thread that needle in ways that are very difficult for us mere mortals. I especially love D&C 121 as a perfect example of this. It is incredibly comforting and uplifting, yet God still manages to seamlessly interweave a gentle rebuke that you could miss if you weren’t paying attention when he rhetorically asks Joseph Smith if he is greater than the Savior. 

While we sometimes feel like we can put in the coin of prayer and get divine comfort in response, sometimes it’s more complicated, and not all concerns that we go to God with are “legitimate” in the same way that a child crying over not being able to take their friend’s toy in nursery is not legitimate. The pain is still real, but sometimes the right response is not affirming the pain but rather disaffirming it. 

In my own life I have a problem with faith. No matter how professionally accomplished I become I still occasionally freak out that I will lose my house and end up in the gutter, or I will have a car accident that will cripple my entire family and I will end my life a gibbering, cynical wreck that wants to curse God and die. And at times instead of a pat on the head that it will all turn out I get a remonstration for my faithlessness (although to be clear, it’s NOT a matter of faith that these things will not happen), and honestly I’ve learned that’s sometimes better for me in the long-term. I can run to God every time I need a hug, but more useful at times is the strong rebuke needed to redirect thoughts and stop feeding the catastrophizing that causes one to need the direct lift-up in the first place. I’m not saying that is what would be best for everyone; the internal psychology of our states of mind is much too complicated for us non-Gods to make that call, just rather that it is something in the repertoire. When God told Oliver Cowdery “did I not speak peace to your mind?” he wasn’t giving him another serving of direct peace to his mind, but rather gently rebuking him for evidently having not accepted the first round. It was up to Cowdery to decide to accept it. 

In regards to God imagery, in addition to being the friend or father, God can also be the proverbial non-nonsense high school football coach that you can tell cares about his student-athletes, but in the meantime can have a serious, no-excuses exterior. While “suck it up, buttercup” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of people like the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, or other this-worldly incarnations of spirituality I do think that is part of God’s toolkit depending on the situation. While yes, some conservatives may err on the side of seeing God as a taciturn judge all the time, it is possible to err too much on the other side of seeing God solely as a constant hug-dispenser, and not the smith of a refiner’s fire. 

19 comments for ““Stop Crying and Get Up”

  1. Where does the starving child’s prayer fit into this? (Or an infant with a painful disease; or a person who is mentally ill who prays to be relieved; or a child being abused; or on and on.) I’m serious. I’d love to hear your thoughts. “Stop crying” seems so off in these settings. But maybe you see some refining to be had?

  2. If you think the OP is arguing that that’s Gods response to all crying prayers you’re being intentionally obtuse.

  3. The first thing that popped into my while reading the OP was Bambi’s father telling him repeatedly to, “get up!” Bambi had just been shot by a hunter and was laying on the ground motionless. But there was a forest fire raging and it was headed right for him–so his pain would have to wait until he could get to safety.

    In like manner, the Lord, whose voice is typically still and small, knows when it is appropriate to shout a warning. And even though, from our limited point of view, it may seem like he’s allowing expediency to trump greater virtues, we will see, in the end, that he is always motivated by pure love.

  4. I’m in therapy right now with a wonderful therapist (who also happens to be a strong Christian), and after experiencing that relationship, I’ve decided that God is a lot like a therapist. He is there to listen and validate my distress, He provides complete acceptance of me without a hint of shame–but He also holds me accountable. My therapist has said that one of her roles is to “hold my feet to the fire” when I need to make changes and to progress in life, and I think that is exactly what God does as well. He won’t leave us where we are.

  5. I hope you are aware of the context of the quote you give from Joseph Smith.

    I agree that I don’t want God to be just a hug dispenser. I need all the types of help that I received from my earthly parents on a continuing basis.

  6. That’s beautiful Jack, Lisa, and AM, thank you.

    Yes, I’m aware that that quote is from the “Happiness Letter” to Nancy Ridden. I’m also aware that Dirkmaat makes a case that the happiness letter isn’t actually from Joseph Smith, but regardless of its provenance I still like the quote…

  7. To answer Hunter’s question about how does God answer the crying abused child. Sometimes he doesn’t because there is no comfort to give that won’t make things worse. God can’t mess with the abuser’s free agency, so sometimes there is not a thing even God can do. And even God can’t comfort a person who is in so much pain that sedating them is the only option. God is NOT all powerful, because he gave us our agency and we voted to come to this earth…..and I really understand the 1/3 the host of heaven that decided against this earth where even God cannot/willnot answer the most desperate prayers. This earth is fallen and God’s power on it is limited.

    Yeah, been there and God walked out and closed the door behind him.

    Later, maybe God can fix things. He did for me, but maybe another child will die without ever being safe enough that God can fix things.

    Meanwhile, We humans need to do more to fix things. We are here and God is not.

  8. “Be of good cheer” and “Fear not” are two related commandments I contemplate frequently. Great post!

  9. This is a great counterpoint to what I’ve been pondering ever since Elder Kearon’s talk on Sunday morning. If I can attempt a synthesis, the trick is that when God says “Stop crying and get up” (and I’ve gotten some blunt messages too) it doesn’t mean some of the things it might mean if one of our fellow mortals said it.

    It does not mean God has compassion fatigue and has hit his limit. If what we need tomorrow is a hug, he’ll be there to give that hug.

    He’s not silently adding “you wimp.” He knows our flaws perfectly, but he does not feel contempt for us because of them. To him, our flaws are just temporary things he’s going to fix. He’s like a kindergarten teacher noting that a new student can’t read–that’s why they’re in kindergarten.

    He’s not refusing to provide more help because that’s all we deserve. Thanks to the atoning blood of Christ, God does not care what we deserve and always gives us far more. Everything he does he does because he loves us and it’s what’s best for us in the long run–but as Anna points out that includes sending us to Earth and deliberately not fixing most of our problems while we’re here.

    Our relationship with him in not in danger. Becoming like Christ is a long and difficult process, and one where our progress will be uneven. God knows that and expects missteps along the way–that’s why he sent his Son. Our covenant relationship with God is only in jeopardy if we give up and turn our backs on him. Some blunt guidance, or even a stern rebuke, is evidence God sees we want to move forward on the covenant path. (A warning would be another matter.)

  10. I’m not liking the God some of you folks are creating. Also, the poor person in the illustration has a right hand attached to her/his left arm. Not a good day for anyone to have that happen.

  11. Goshdammit Old Man I thought that was a great picture, and now I can’t unsee that.

  12. Great post. These last two comments are what keep me coming back here though. Good catch Old Man!

  13. Just to be clear, I don’t find the Happiness Letter a problem because of doubts about who wrote it. I find its intended purpose to be wrong.

    That has nothing to do with the purpose of this post. I don’t mind a God who hugs me when needed and pushes me through hard times when that would be better. I also think this is a different issue from the problem of evil which seems to be implied by some commenters. I’m not trying to say anything about child cancer, neglect, or abuse. Those are difficult topics that cannot be dealt with in any simple way, in my opinion.

  14. I might not have translated it right. Sort of a stern, yet empowering, “get up.”

  15. Another thing that I love about the moment in Bambi (when his father tells him to get up) is that his father doesn’t leave him to his own devices after he gets to he his feet. He says, “now, come with me.” And he personally leads Bambi to safety.

    The Lord is never capricious. Everything he does for us is calculated to carry us forward in his plan for our happiness.

  16. I don’t know how many of you here are old enough to remember this fun cheesy tune by Gloria Estefan–but I think it has a sense of the empowering feeling the Stephen is alluding to:

  17. Whatever hard, negative, devastating, tragic experience we have in mortality will be forgotten in about a minute when we cross to the other side. The reward will be soooooo worth what ever crap we went through here. I personally believe we will then find that we asked to experience our specific crap before we came here. God helped make it happen as well as get us through it.

    What a wonderful world. Thank you God.

  18. I remember one time when I was facing what seemed to be a huge problem in my life. I fasted and prayed about it for weeks, if not longer. I was surprised and humbled when the answer I got was a very specific impression: “You’re asking the wrong question.”

    Things worked out as I approached the problem with a new perspective.

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