I haven’t wanted to talk openly about this. I’m supposed to be feeling better. I’m supposed to have overcome my battle with anxiety and depression. But the reality is that I still struggle. Most of the time I feel relatively stable. But I still struggle. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, so those days of struggle seem to be outnumbering the days of peace. I’m supposed to be a “birth blogger,” not a “depression blogger,” right?
I broke down in tears to a friend who called me a few minutes ago. She asked, “Do you have any friends there who know what’s going on with you?” But I haven’t wanted to talk to any local friends about it. I haven’t wanted to be a downer. Everyone has their own struggles and stresses. They’re facing their own hard battles right now. I don’t want to burden them with mine. Plus the holidays are a busy time. But my friend on the phone encouraged me to open up.
So here I am again. Broadcasting to the world: hey, I’m struggling. I’m not radiant or glowing or anything resembling those things right now. I’m going through a hard time.
Back in mid-October I was asked to speak to our church congregation. The topic was hope. I have to chuckle to myself now. If only I could always practice what I preach. I typed out my remarks word-for-word. Partly because I’m a writer, not a public speaker. Partly because I wanted to choose my words very carefully. I knew that there would probably be at least one or two people in that congregation who desperately needed something to hold onto, and I knew that I would have to offer them that hope packaged in a way they could receive it. When you’re in despair, not everyone can reach you.
I’d like to share what I spoke that day. Maybe you need some extra hope? I know I do. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if the only reason I was asked to speak was because God knew I was going to need to re-read my own words often over the next few months.
Disclaimer: I’m a Mormon. So I quoted some Mormon scriptures and Mormon church leaders. Maybe you’ll “unlike” me for doing this. But this is who I am. Take me or leave me. I believe God speaks to us however we’ll hear it. So I hope you’ll give me a chance.
Hope for Dark Times
I have great respect for Moroni. For a lot of reasons. But here’s one of them. First, I want to read you a few of his words:
And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.
I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not. (Mormon 8:2-5)
I wouldn’t have blamed Moroni if he had gone into despair. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had given up on his faith or his life.
But he didn’t.
And that alone gives me immense respect for him. Even in the face of all of that loss and suffering and wickedness, he chose to focus on the inspiring words of his father, writing, “I would speak unto you concerning hope,” as recorded in Moroni chapter 7 (my favorite chapter of the Book of Mormon).
My topic today is hope.
But I speak to you today as one who has seen the underbelly of despair, up close and personal. In preparation for this talk, I read a journal article by a researcher named Richard Lazarus, who described despair as “probably the worst state of mind one can experience.” I would have to agree with him. The dictionary describes despair as “an utter loss of hope.”
Perhaps you are there right now. Or perhaps someone you love is there. Despair can come to all of us, even the very best of us. It wasn’t that long ago that I was sitting down there, trying to hold myself up under the weight of my own despair, when someone standing up here gave me something to hold onto. I hope today that I can do the same for one of you.
As many of the speakers in last weekend’s General Conference alerted us: we are in perilous times. The last days. I was impressed by how many of our leaders spoke about enduring to the end. We’re in for a difficult ride from here on out, I think. But that’s why I started with Moroni. Moroni had hope. And we can too.
I’d like to go back to the beginning of the Book of Mormon now to Lehi’s dream. He saw a dark and dreary wasteland and then he saw the tree of life “whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.” He saw a river of water near the tree. Along the bank of the river was a rod of iron with a strait and narrow path leading to the tree of life. In 1 Nephi 8:23-24, Lehi says:
And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
So we have an exceedingly great mist of darkness. That mist of darkness can represent any of the adversary’s tools. For our purposes today, I’d like to hone in on despair. Being in despair is very much like being surrounded by a mist of darkness. When you are in despair, everything in the world around you gets filtered through that veil of darkness. Despair puts blinders on you and impairs your ability to see the future with clarity. All you can see is where you are, and where you are is miserable.
But God doesn’t send us into this world to face the mists of darkness without Him. The thing that enabled the people in Lehi’s dream to overcome despair and partake of the fruit of happiness was this: “they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron.”
We learn a little later that the iron rod represents the word of God. I’d like to suggest that hope, in the context of Lehi’s dream, is clinging to the rod of iron. When you find yourself in the mists of darkness, hope is making that decision to believe that if you will cling to the rod (or handcuff yourself to the rod, if need be), and keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how long it takes or how dark it gets or how steep the road may become, you will eventually see light. You will eventually reach your goal, partake of the fruit, and be happy.
I spent a long time in despair last year. And when I was in the middle of it, I thought it was never going to go away. I thought I was lost forever. Satan can be very convincing. But it did end for me. It took longer than I wanted, and I spent many long hours fighting my way tooth and nail to endure through just one more minute, and another, and another. And there were many, many times that I really and truly believed I couldn’t endure any more. But I did. And then, eventually, the world didn’t feel quite so overwhelming and bleak, and I felt my self coming back, and the relief of that triumph was the greatest feeling in the world.
For me, hope in my time of darkness meant clinging to the word of God that reached out to me through:
- The words of my husband telling me over and over and over every day, “You’re going to get better. You are getting better,” when I would stare pleadingly into his eyes for relief.
- The words of my patriarchal blessing, assuring me that I still had work to do on this earth and important missions to fulfill.
- The words of daily priesthood blessings in which I was promised over and over that I would feel joy again.
- The words of scriptures and hymns, urging me to remember my Savior’s sufferings and have faith in His ability to heal my mind and heart.
- The words of friends who told me that I was worth saving.
Hope, for me, was clinging to the words of God that came to me through a variety of sources, assuring me that relief would come and it would be worth waiting for.
President Hinckley, one of the most optimistic people who has ever lived (in my opinion), wrote in his book Standing For Something, “We are creatures of our thinking. We can talk ourselves into defeat, or we can talk ourselves into victory” (p. 119). Hope is choosing to talk yourself up. Hope is choosing to filter your thoughts.
When a thought comes into your mind, ask yourself, “Where is this statement coming from? Is this the iron rod or is this the mists of darkness?” If it’s the iron rod (the word of God), cling to it, hold it in your mind and heart, repeat it to yourself, write it down in your journal. “I am worth fighting for. I am a child of God. I have important work to do.” On the other hand, if you can identify a thought as coming from the mists of darkness, cast it immediately from your mind. It is a lie. Replace it immediately with a scripture, a hymn, a line from your patriarchal blessing, or a promise from a priesthood blessing. The less attention you give to the mists of darkness, the thinner they become. And the more attention you give to the word of God, the stronger your hope and your joy will become.
The mists of darkness are part of life. There must be opposition in all things. But I bear you my testimony, a testimony found in the trenches of my own experience, that despair is a deception of the adversary. He wants us to believe that we have no reason to hope, but that is a lie. It is always a lie. Because there is always a way out of any darkness. Always. God knows the way, and if you will cling to the TRUTH, cling to His words, He will help you to endure, He will show you the path to the light. You are worth saving. You are worth fighting for. God loves you, whether you believe it or not. God loves you whether you can feel it or not.
I’d like to close with these words from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s wonderful conference address:
Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.
I echo that testimony in the name of our Rescuer, Jesus Christ, Amen.