Twice a year, members of the church from the wider area where we live gather together for what we call ‘Stake Conference’. The conference is held over Saturday and Sunday, and I was asked to speak at the session held last night. I share it here in the hopes that it provides some hope and understanding for others.
Many years ago, I served my mission amongst the beautiful people of Chile. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about a particular experience I had while I was there.
I was in a small town called Coihueco. And my companion and I were teaching a single mother and her daughter who I’ll call Juana, who was about 12 years old. They lived on the outskirts of the town in a small makeshift house of dirt floors.
After teaching them the gospel, they both wanted to be baptised, and we made preparations. My companion and I had some concerns over Juana, however. Juana had learning difficulties, and we weren’t sure whether she truly understood the covenants she would be making. But, after consulting with the Mission President, we decided to continue with our preparations.
The day came, everything was ready, the baptismal font was filled, Branch members had arrived, we were all dressed in white, we’d had the prayer, the talks, and the hymns, and then we struck a problem. Juana suddenly revealed her fear of water, and she couldn’t get in the font. Coihueco didn’t have its own chapel and so we had travelled some distance for the service. And it wouldn’t be straight-forward to reschedule.
After much discussion, coaxing, and more than one prayer, I was finally able to help Juana into the font where I baptised her. Upon rising from the water, she looked at me with a huge smile on her face, and said, “That was beautiful. Can we do it again?”
Juana had participated in the discussions. She’d read the scriptures and prayed. She’d gained a testimony of the restored gospel and had prepared as best she could. She believed she’d be fine for the baptism and therefore hadn’t said anything to us about her fear of water. But when it came down to it, none of that was sufficient, and once she arrived at the appointed time, her fears were too much for her without additional help and support.
However, once she’d been baptised – once she’d experienced baptism – all of her fears were overcome to the point that she wanted to do more.
There are a number of lessons I’ve learned from this experience over the years, but there are two lessons I’d like to draw from now. The first relates to our ability to help and support others. The second relates to our personal spiritual strength.
Not much of my life to that point had involved anything related to mental health or learning disabilities. So, when we met and taught Juana, I had no experience from which to draw to help me support her. And without the correct experience, I simply didn’t have the right knowledge. If I knew then what I know now, I would probably have spotted certain signs, and asked about phobias. We could have organised a practice and done other things to help her. In the end, the Lord stepped in, but with better knowledge, a lot of anxiety could have been prevented.
Because in our mortal lives, we only have a tiny number of all the experiences available to God’s children, we all inevitably lack a huge amount of the knowledge that can only be gained through them. And just as in my case with Juana, it poses us all with challenges in our efforts to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those in need of comfort.
As tragedy strikes others, we desire to provide the needed comfort. But when such circumstances are far from our own experiences, we struggle to know how. We simply don’t have the right knowledge to help.
I’d like to talk about one particular type of challenge an increasing number of people are facing.
In 3 Nephi we read of the great destructions following the death of Christ in Jerusalem. But it’s the days immediately following that destruction I’d like to mention, because one of the greatest causes of the weeping of the surviving more-righteous Nephites was the darkness itself. (3 Nephi 8:23)
Described as a tangible vapour of darkness, it was simply impossible for those who’d just lost friends, family, and every earthly possession to see even the faintest glimmer of light. Even “exceedingly dry wood” couldn’t be lit. Mormon writes, “there could not be any light at all.” (3 Nephi 8:21)
Today, a modern-day plague is among us in which too many people feel exactly that way: emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Perhaps among us this evening are those who feel that tortuous desolation of their souls; who’ve lost all hope of finding happiness or joy in this life or the life to come; who cry helplessly in that vapour of darkness in which there can be no light.
To be in such a place is terrifying – not just for the individual suffering, but also for those who love them, as they feel helpless to provide the desperately needed care and support.
For some who are in such a place, the valour of their souls might be demonstrated in kneeling before the Lord in prayer when they feel – even believe they know– their words go unheard. For some, it’s getting out of bed each day to do just those things necessary to maintain life – often for those in their care such as children. And for others, maybe the only battle they can face is to survive another day when they don’t believe there’s anything to survive for. Surely the angels in heaven sing and weep for joy when such battles are won.
To any who are now in such places, please know that no matter how isolated and abandoned you feel, you’re not alone. Others have trod where you tread. I’ve crawled those desperate paths myself.
Above all, Christ has been where you are. Before He rose above all things, He descended below all things. Even He felt abandoned. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
However, of those moments when our Saviour hung upon the cross and felt so alone, Elder Jeffrey R Holland has said, “…[it] is my personal belief that in all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering.” (None Were with Him, April 2009 General Conference)
The same is true for you and me. Though in our most desperate times we may believe none will hear our cries, our Heavenly Father hears those both spoken and unspoken. Though we may believe none will witness our tears – or feel our emotional “nothingness” when we’re too numb to cry – He sees, and He feels. As a loving, tender parent, he weeps, as does His Son and our Saviour who weeps with us and for us.
Though you may feel abandoned and alone, Christ hasn’t left you, nor will He, for He has engraven you upon the palms of His hands. (Isaiah 49:16)
We know the Saviour of the world took upon himself our sins, our frailties, our imperfections, and our infirmities (see Alma 7:11-13). In doing so He surely also took upon himself our tears, our empty hearts, our hopeless cries.
And just as He is driven by love, let us be the same. Although there are times when comforting others seems impossible – when we simply lack the relevant knowledge – and we just don’t know what to do, we can still mourn with those who mourn. Too often, when we see someone in such distress we might say and do nothing, for fear of saying the “wrong” thing and making things worse.
But the worst thing for someone in such a terrifyingly lonely place is for them to be left alone. An arm around the shoulder to say, “I don’t know what it’s like, I don’t know how to help, but I’m thinking of you”; a message of love sent via social media or email – that probably won’t be returned; or maybe just sitting quietly with someone so they’re not alone in their distress, with or without the sharing of tears. Such things can be literal life-savers.
God promised Adam thistles and thorns after he left Eden, and you and I feel them keenly (Genesis 3:18). The combination of thorns and thistles you’ve faced are different to mine. Indeed, they’re unique to you. In His wisdom, God has personalised your mortal wilderness journey. In doing so, He’s ensured the trials you face will stretch you to the very limits of your strength, and when you have proven faithful, beyond.
But remember that however lonely and untravelled our personalised pathway through the wilderness, there is One who has walked before us. Whatever knowledge others lack of our challenges – or we lack of theirs’ – Jesus Christ knows. He understands. He has walked that path so He can succour us in our afflictions (see Alma 7:11-13). He knows the way. He is the way, and the light which will shine for each of us again. (see John 14:6)
This leads me on to my second point.
Juana had prepared for her baptism – she knew baptism was the right thing to do – but without the knowledge gained from experience, her fears almost overcame her. Today, we face the same difficulty, and the challenges that gives us are only increasing as we draw closer to the Lord’s second coming.
We can know God lives without knowing God.
We can know that because of the infinite atonement, Christ’s mercy and grace are also infinite. In that sense, our testimonies can be sure. But at the same time, we struggle to really know Christ in the more profound and sustaining way we need. We struggle to feel His empowering grace.
We can know there’s power and safety in making and keeping sacred covenants, without knowing that power or that safety in our lives.
I ask if there is anything more important than to seek than a loving, personal relationship with our Father in Heaven and His Son. God’s work and glory is to bring to pass your and my immortality and eternal life. And the only way man ever could, can now, or ever will achieve this is by coming to Christ. It’s our primary goal in this life, and the closer we come to Him, the greater His power can work through us – to sustain us, and to lift and bless others.
How can we come to know Him better?
One way is to seek His guidance and support more frequently than we do, specifically through prayer. “Let your hearts be drawn out unto Him continually,” said Amulek. (Alma 34:27) “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings,” taught Alma. (Alma 37:37) “Look unto me in every thought,” said the Saviour Himself. (D&C 6:36)
I’m not one who suggests we should seek His guidance when we’re trying to decide between two brands of corn flakes. But I am one who would suggest that if you think you’ve forgotten something in your shopping trip, a silent prayer wouldn’t be amiss.
Our Father in Heaven and His Son care about the little things in our lives. There are multitudes of decisions and difficult tasks we undertake every day.
To always remember Him doesn’t mean only to remember His commandments, as important as that it. More importantly, it’s to always remember the power of His grace and His mercy. It’s to remember not only that He has overcome, but that with His strength you can overcome. It’s to remember that His love for you is so great that even the hairs of your head are numbered (Matthew 10:30); to know that you are His work and His glory, and that He stands ready and eager to extend His grace over even the small things.
I know prayer sounds such a simplistic answer to this important question. But as we learn to seek His help more frequently in our lives, we’ll find that over time we naturally begin to draw closer to Him. Though He may not always provide the guidance we seek in every circumstance, we will increasingly experience His love and concern for us. And our prayers will themselves become more powerful. I testify of this truth.
With all the strength I can muster I bear my witness not only that God lives, but that He’s closer to you than you can possibly imagine. I bear my witness that because of Jesus Christ the vapours of darkness will disperse, and just as with the ancient Nephites the rocks in our lives will cease to rend, the earth cease to shake, and all the tumultuous noises will pass away. (3 Nephi 10:9)
In that day, if we’ve been faithful, we’ll feel the warm embrace of His loving arms and we’ll know that He has ever been with us, and will be for all eternity.
I bear you my witness that Christ truly rose from the tomb, breaking the bonds of death and hell, of pain and suffering, forever. Though our trials may at times feel so much greater than we have strength to bear, they are never too great that with His strength we can’t overcome.
And I testify that as we each seek Him, we will find Him. That you and I can progress from knowing that He lives, to knowing Him. For that Light who we seek will grow brighter and brighter to our sight until the perfect day (D&C 50:24), when every tear will be wiped from our eyes (Revelation 21:4), and we’re encircled in the arms of His love (see D&C 6:20).
It’s His work and glory, His joy and His greatest desire, that you come unto Him, and be saved in eternal splendour.
I pray that we may each discover that light and support we need from Him in our lives.
© Copyright 2019 Jeffrey Collyer