As I looked around the classroom into the faces of self-conscious but eager 12-year-old girls, I thought of the first line of the Young Women theme: “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us.”
I wondered, “How do these young women know Heavenly Father loves them?” So I asked them.
Many bowed their heads or nervously shuffled their feet, not wanting to be called on. It was obvious to me they needed some time to think about the question and perhaps some privacy for their response. “Think about it throughout the lesson,” I said.
At the conclusion, I handed out pieces of paper and had the young women write anonymously how they knew that Heavenly Father loved them. As they struggled to write, I heard such comments as “This is so hard” and “I’m not sure I do know.” I was particularly struck by Jocelyn, who had been in tears through most of the lesson. When I privately read their answers, I knew which crumpled paper was hers. She said simply, “Because He saved my mom.”
Her mother is one of my dear friends, and I too had been fervently praying for her. She had just successfully undergone surgery for a heart condition and was about to be released from the hospital when an artery in her spleen burst. Within minutes she was at death’s door. A team of doctors feverishly worked to revive her enough to prepare her for emergency surgery. Miraculous is the only way to describe her recovery. It was an answer to many prayers, including Jocelyn’s and mine. It was a powerful witness of God’s love.
Yet I also felt chilled by Jocelyn’s answer. What if Heavenly Father hadn’t saved her mother? Would she still know that Heavenly Father loves her? Would she be able to feel the Lord’s love even amid life’s inevitable sorrows and tragedies?
Then I thought of my niece Ashley. She too knows of the love her Father in Heaven has for her, yet her experience was quite the opposite of Jocelyn’s.
About a year ago Ashley was walking with her father and mother across seaside boulders near their home in northern California. Her dad was photographing beautiful scenes for watercolors he would paint. Out of nowhere and with no forewarning, a rogue wave engulfed the shore, carrying her father out to sea and dragging her mother along the boulders. Ashley was inland far enough that the killer wave missed her. Terrorized by what she had just witnessed, she ran for help.
Within minutes, a man with a cell phone called emergency numbers, and a rescue began. Her mother had landed in a precarious spot where she could be reached only by helicopter. She was in excruciating pain with a broken back and arm and with numerous cuts and gashes due to the vicious rocks and fierce ocean. Ashley’s father was nowhere to be found. As Ashley’s mother lay on the edge of the sea waiting for rescue, she felt her husband’s presence, and she knew without a doubt that he was gone. His body never was recovered.
Heavenly Father didn’t save Ashley’s dad. Yet Ashley still knows that He loves her. She says: “During that time I felt comfort from the Holy Ghost. I knew I would see my dad again. And I felt the Lord’s love through the kind care of others.”
Each week young women and their leaders throughout the Church stand and declare, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us …” Do we really know this? Do we know it deeply enough that this knowledge strengthens and sustains us? How can we better know and feel His love? Jocelyn’s and Ashley’s examples suggest that we may come to know of God’s love in our lives—both in our joys and in our sorrows.
As I considered these contrasting stories, a pair of comparable scriptural examples came to my mind—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s deliverance from the fiery furnace versus Abinadi’s martyrdom by fire.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were faithful servants of the Lord. They knew He loved them. They had faith that He could preserve them in the fiery furnace, if it was His will. “If it be so,” they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king” (Dan. 3:17). Not only did they have faith that the Lord could save them, but more important, they trusted in His will for them, whether they were protected or not. The astonished King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed their miraculous rescue and recognized the powerful love that God had for these “servants that trusted in him” (Dan. 3:28).
The prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon likewise trusted the Lord when faced with the threat of a fiery death. King Noah said, “Thou shalt be put to death unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou hast spoken evil concerning me and my people” (Mosiah 17:8).
Abinadi boldly refused. When it came time for him to be burned, he was not miraculously saved. “He fell, having suffered death by fire; yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death” (Mosiah 17:20). He trusted in the Lord’s love for him and His will for him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were spared death by fire; Abinadi was not. Yet all were loved of the Lord, and all knew it.
The outcomes of these two stories suggest that the love of God transcends the earthly experiences we have. His love is greater than the good and the bad things that happen to us. Sometimes He blesses us by granting the desires of our hearts, and sometimes He blesses us with comfort and strength to bear the burden of unfulfilled or shattered desires.
In my life I have known of God’s love for me. I have prayed for specific blessings, and He has granted them to me. I feel His love in “mercies and [in] miracles” (“Bless Our Fast, We Pray,” Hymns, no. 138), in births and baptisms, in health and healings, in mornings and mountains, in friendships and family love, in timing and temples.
By contrast, I have also been sustained in my adversities. Some burdens weigh me down in spite of my desire to have this cup removed (see Luke 22:42). In fact, it is through such difficult experiences that I feel a greater dependence upon the Lord and an even richer outpouring of love from Him. I feel a closeness to Him, knowing that He is carrying me, comforting me, and giving me the courage to go on. I know as Paul taught the Romans that nothing, no matter how hard it is, can separate me from the love of God:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 38–39).
Jocelyn and Ashley could not be separated from the love of God, even though one’s parent was spared and the other’s was not. They recognize His love in all experiences—joyful and sorrowful. I desire that all young women the world over, in whatever circumstances they find themselves, can, like Jocelyn and Ashley, testify with conviction, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us!”