I recently attended the viewing of a sweet newborn baby. As I watched the parents of this infant shed tears of sorrow for the unexpected and untimely loss of their baby girl, I tried to comprehend what they might be feeling. I thought of the various challenges that they would continue to face as they learned to cope with their loss. My heart ached as I quietly and respectfully watched this good father, carry the tiny casket holding his precious baby, into the funeral services. Knowing that I couldn’t take their pain away, I struggled to find the right words to express to the distraught parents, and I prayed that they would find a measure of peace and comfort through the difficult grieving process.
As I have taken time to ponder upon this brief and sorrowful moment, I’ve recalled many times the vision I have etched in my mind of this father carrying the tiny casket which held his precious baby girl. I’m sure for this father it didn’t take a great deal of physical strength to be the sole pall-bearer of his tiny baby, but it must have taken a tremendous amount of emotional and spiritual strength. It is in these moments of our extremities that we can come to know as never before, our strength and our capacity to endure, through and because of the very real and very personal Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Like this young father, we all will face various challenges along life’s journey when in our time of extremity we will need the reassurance, strength, and understanding, that can only be found because of the eternal power of the Atonement.
As one who has battled with the struggles of depression, I understand the hardship, affliction, and distress it can create in the individual lives of its sufferers, and their family and friends. Although it is more fully recognized and better understood than it once was, depression still carries with it a stigma. Many still fear the ability to be able to freely talk about this widely spread mental disorder, leaving many of it’s sufferers to feel isolated and secluded.
A clinically depressed person is bombarded with distorted thoughts, creating a demeaning self-perception and a lack of self-confidence. A depressed person may have days when it takes all possible willpower just to take care of the basic necessities of life. A depressed person can become so overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, that the desire to carry on can be lost. The person may even question if life is worth living. In this state of overwhelming emotional and mental anguish, encompassed by distorted thoughts and perceptions, depression sufferers may challenge their belief that there truly is a Divine influence, offering to them a sustaining power of support and strength.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) conveyed an insightful message to all of us who in our time of affliction, may wonder if God has forgotten us. He said:
Whenever these moments of our extremity come, we must not succumb to the fear that God has abandoned us or that He does not hear our prayers. He does hear us. He does see us. He does love us. When we are in dire circumstances… it is imperative that we remember He is right there with us-where He has always been! We must continue to believe, continue to have faith, continue to pray and plead with heaven, even if we feel for a time our prayers are not heard and that God has somehow gone away. He is there. Our prayers are heard. And when we weep He and the angels of heaven weep with us.
When lonely, cold, hard times come, we have to endure, we have to continue, we have to persist. That was the Savior’s message in the parable of the importuning widow (see Luke 18:1-8; see also Luke 11:5-10). Keep knocking on that door. Keep pleading. In the meantime, know that God hears your cries and knows your distress. He is your Father, and you are His child.” (Jeffrey R. Holland in “Lessons from Liberty Jail“)
Because of my faith in and my understanding of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, I know that I am provided with strength and endurance, even as I have fought my battle with depression. However, I have also had to strive to find ways to break through the distorted thoughts and perceptions of this mental disorder to be able to more fully recognize God’s involvement in my life. For this to occur, I had to obtain proper treatment that worked for my individual situation. For me, this involved a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, in addition to continued strength, faith, and perseverance. There are other individuals who find relief through various methods of treatment, and still there are others who have not yet found a treatment that has healed or cured them from this disabling disorder.
For those who continue to suffer with depression, despite trying unsuccessfully to find healing through various treatments, I plead for you to hang on. Don’t give up. I know the feeling of relentless anguish and despair. I understand the hopelessness that can consume your life and leave you wondering if you will ever again feel peace and joy. In my pursuit to find answers as to why I was plagued with this arduous mental battle that creates such immense suffering, I found some light and hope through the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks [also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles]. He said:
Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a “healing” cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are “healed” by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us….. Brothers and sisters, the healing power of His Atonement is for you, for us, for all. The healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ—whether it removes our burdens or strengthens us to endure and live with them…. is available for every affliction in mortality. (Dallin H. Oaks, “He Heals the Heavy Laden,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 6–9)
The additional understanding that I have gained through the inspirational words of Elder Oaks provided for me an added measure of faith and trust in myself and my capacity to endure. Knowing that my Heavenly Father trusted that I could continue to bear this burden for a time, gave me additional strength to press forward in my time of affliction. The Savior paved the way for each and everyone of us through the Atonement to find healing; but to also find strength to carry on when the healing doesn’t come as we might expect. Enduring for a time, our individual afflictions and hardships, may in fact be the personal molding and refinement required for us to become better acquainted with God.
Orson F. Whitney, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, beautifully teaches through these inspired words, a greater understanding of the purpose of trials and tribulations in our lives. He said:
No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God… and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.
One way that I found and continue to find additional strength and understanding in my trials, is to more consciously look for affirmations of God’s hand in my life. Sometimes the recognition of God’s personal involvement in our lives can come through overwhelming powerful experiences, but more often than not, these affirmations come through small and quiet day-to-day occurrences, from which we can catch a glimmer of the light and love of our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ, which is brought to us by way of the Holy Ghost, who is the Comforter, a teacher, and a peace giver.
These affirmations can also come through the love and understanding of religious leaders. They can come through the wise guidance of a professional counselor. They can come through a friend who somehow knows just what you need, and they can come through a simple hug, smile, or compliment. We can find heavenly affirmations as we read something that inspires us and we can find affirmations as we hear a song that touches our heart.
At times, these affirmations may seem to be just a coincidence, or perhaps they seem too insignificant to be recognized as confirmations of God’s love for us. However, in Alma 37:6 we are taught that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” Many times we are Divinely tutored and comforted, “by small and simple things.”
As I have continued to work on overcoming my self defeating thoughts, I have become more readily able to recognize with the Spirit’s help that these small and simple things are in fact, Divine blessings from a loving Heavenly Father and Savior. I have been the beneficiary of these small and simple, yet miraculous affirmations. I know that God does hear me. He does see me. He is there and He does love me. I am strengthened in my afflictions, just as the grieving young father, and just as all of us can be, as we experience our own varying trials and challenges along life’s journey.