My daughter, Evey, frequently has bad dreams. I used to have bad dreams as a kid a lot too, so we often pray together that she will have good dreams or no dreams at all. She also says a lot of personal prayers for the same thing. Most nights, these humble prayers are enough. Occasionally, however, a more powerful experience is called for.
I was taught as a child that if confronted with something super scary I could raise my arm to the square and cast out the accusing apparition in the name of Jesus Christ. I was taught that Christ’s name can be called upon any time, and that we have access to his power in healing our minds and hearts. I have relied on these truths more than a few times over the years. And I’ve tried to teach my children to whom they can look for the peace they need.
A few weeks ago, Evey came running into my room, crying and shaking. She had had a particularly bad dream. The kind where you wake up but your room has become a terrifying extension of your nightmare and there is no escape. This happened to me too many times as a kid, and my heart broke for her. I’ve tried to find good answers for why they happen, but I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand. All I know is that calling upon the name of Christ and trusting in God’s power to heal has often been the only thing that has worked to restore peace. We prayed together, and I sent her back to her room.
Less than 5 minutes later she came running back into my room. She told me that there felt like there was a darkness there and it wouldn’t let her sleep. She just kept thinking about mistakes she had made in the past, tormented by bad thoughts about herself that made the room feel darker and the air thicker. I believe that, for reasons I don’t understand, satan is allowed to torment our minds with darkness. And I don’t mean a literal personage, like a literal manifestation of Lucifer. I mean satan the accuser and critic of humanity, the great enemy of humankind and goodness, embodied in the character of Lucifer, but not isolated there. The true meaning if the word satan, which is just the hebrew word for “accuser” or that which makes us doubt ourselves and God.
Satan is not just something outside of us, but it also dwells within us, often deep within our ego. At times it comes to the surface, and we see it manifested in our own personal hate, fear, and judgement. Subtly, it even attacks us, telling us accusing lies that we are unworthy, and convincing us that we cannot pray or reach God. These demonic lies, whether produced by unregulated brain function or from the inherent condition of living in a fallen world, can afflict our hearts and minds and cause darkness that only our Savior can heal.
Even our nightmares, bubbling up from the depths of our psyches, can be used against us. Thankfully, our Lord is mighty to save. He is the Master Healer. And his power can be called upon to rebuke these demons and bring peace to our souls. He has given us both physical medicine and spiritual ordinances to combat these darker parts of being human, because he fully understands the demands this world places on us as we have our mortal experiences.
So, when Evey ran in this second time, feeling weak beneath this influence of darkness, wherever it came from, my first inspired thought was to go with her to her room, raise my arm to the square with her, and teach her how to call upon her Savior. “I will bless her using all of the power I know the Lord gives his children to bless and heal in his name, that through Christ she will have peace. I’ll use my hands and my heart, and I will pray with her, not just with hopes for good dreams, but with the full power of God’s love casting out all fear and creating a safe space for her to rest.”
Then I heard, “You can’t do that. You don’t have priesthood authority.”
I understand the priesthood to be the power of God on earth, defined by eternally loving, gentle, meek, and long-suffering action on behalf of God’s children and his Kingdom. Do I not have that power? I felt myself sink into my bed, frozen with helplessness. Again, the thought, “You can’t bless her. You don’t have the authority.”
My husband was busy at that moment, so I thought, “Okay, maybe I’ll just wait for him to come back and he can give her a proper priesthood blessing.” I sent Evey back to her room and told her that her daddy would be there soon to help.
Then I cried. Where had my my power gone? I felt like the worst mother in the world. In a taunting voice I heard, “See, I told you. You don’t have the priesthood.”
This time my soul declared, “Get thee behind me, satan!” I knew that voice that had caused me to stop and shrink was not from the Lord. It was the accuser, convincing me that I don’t have access to my Father’s power. I was about to jump up and go to Evey in her room when my husband walked in. When I saw him, I again shrank a little, deferring to the doubts of my power conditioned deep within my mind. I told him what Evey was up against and he went to talk to her. I knew that because of my hesitation I had been weakened and lost an important opportunity to be the Savior’s hands for my daughter in her moment of crisis. Satan had won this round, but I was determined to never lose that battle again.
Fast forward to yesterday, April 4th. General Conference. I had spent all week praying and repenting, preparing to hear the Lord’s voice through his servants. I was determined to see the good news of the gospel and not allow any cynicism or judgement to enter into my mind. The first two sessions of Conference were beautiful testaments of Christ. I really loved every talk given. And through those sessions and the beginning of the evening session, I felt the Lord’s message that I do, indeed, have priesthood power to bless and lead my family in our home.
When President Oaks stood and elaborated upon the church’s policies regarding the apostolic priesthood, reiterating what has recently been released as part of the new general handbook, I was riveted to his message. My heart was full as he proclaimed, “The principle that priesthood authority can be exercised only under the direction of one who holds the keys for that function is fundamental in the church, but this does not apply in the family.” He went on to describe how a father needs no direction or approval from one who holds priesthood keys to use the priesthood to perform his various family functions, including holding family councils and blessing his children. “Church authorities teach family members, but do not direct the exercise of priesthood authority in the family.”
As President Oaks continued to describe this patriarchal priesthood, I felt excited. We were finally hearing more direct and explicit explanations of the beautiful union of husband and wife and the familial priesthood given by God to bless all of his children. He talked of how women can preside and bring the priesthood power to her family when a father is absent. And then he said, “She is not authorized to give the priesthood blessings that can only be given be a person holding a certain office in the priesthood…”
It broke my heart. I sat quietly through the rest of President Oaks’ address, found no solace in President Nelson’s announcement of a new church logo, and sought a quiet place apart to process my feelings immediately after the closing prayer.
“I thought he said those church offices, defined by the keys which they hold, do not direct the priesthood in the family. I thought he said women could use the priesthood to bless their families. Wait, did he mean something by specifically saying in the absence of a father? As a church authority, why would I need to get his permission to bless my family? Didn’t he just say it doesn’t work like that?”
“You are not authorized to give priesthood blessings to your family.” It sounded like the voice of satan. It was the same voice in my head that paralyzed me weeks ago. It didn’t seem to matter that he followed it with you can do everything else, because he said blessing your children through God’s own authoritative power is not for you. I wanted to shout, “Get thee behind me!”
Then, I took a deep breath, feeling taken back by the strength of my reaction. I could not see what he was saying in that one moment as the good news of the gospel. Then I remembered that Christ had lovingly said the same words to his beloved Apostle Peter.
When Peter tried to deny Christ’s mission to liberate all of God’s children by allowing himself to be killed, he didn’t fully understand. Christ “turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, satan…” (Matthew 16:23)
Christ loved Peter dearly, and Peter stayed close to the Lord even when others wouldn’t, devoted to and beyond the end. I believe President Oaks is a beloved Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps a little misunderstanding has caused a moment of declaring something other than the good news. I am not presumptuous enough to think I know better than an Apostle in all things. But in that one moment, I knew that the way we’ve defined and packaged the priesthood is not the fullness of the gospel of Christ.
I’ve always said that Peter is one of my favorite Apostles, and I now see President Oaks in that same way. While cynicism or frustration may have caused me to be critical of his messages in the past, I realize now the accusing satans in my own heart and mind. He presents a challenge to my discipleship sometimes, and through that challenge I draw closer to the Lord, and learn to love my enemies until I see that I never actually had any, fully embraced in a Christ-soaked world. I love President Oaks, and honor his dedication to follow the Lord the best he knows how. I’m grateful for his service, and I feel better equipped by the spirit to look beyond the inconsistent to the good news that he does proclaim.
I’ve since gone back and relistened to his talk a few times. I love how President Oaks ended his message, by imploring us to look for the good fruit of the gospel to know what is just and true. Our church policies which demand distinction between God’s power and his authority are keeping us from the fullness of God’s power on earth. The doctrines that insist on exclusively held keys instead of a universal unlocking of the door are keeping us from understanding the depth and breadth of the power and authority that accompanies a Christ-like life. They are not producing the abundance of good fruit that could be ours. I can both share what I’ve learned and also patiently wait upon the Lord to guide this church. This is, after all, an ongoing restoration. As Elder Holland said this morning in his message of hope, “We all need to believe that what we desire in righteousness can some day, some way, some how, yet be ours.”
True gospel authority, the authority to heal and renew things and people, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. What the crucified has revealed to the world is that the real authority that “authors” people and changes the world is an inner authority that comes from people who have lost, let go, and are refound on a new level.
~Richard Rohr, Eager to Love