Why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? -Nephi
I walked in late to our Relief Society class today. I had been in the nursery with my toddler, but I managed to make it in for the last twenty minutes or so of the discussion. The topic was the power of the Book of Mormon. Sometimes when I’m sitting in church meetings, I have thoughts come to my mind, but the Spirit restrains me from sharing them. That’s what happened today. I felt, instead, that the Spirit was guiding me to share those thoughts here. I’m grateful to have a place to put the things I sometimes can’t speak aloud.
One of the quotations shared as part of our discussion was this one from Boyd K. Packer:
What followed was a discussion in which many women talked about how reading the Book of Mormon brings immediate peace and joy. For most of my life, reading the Book of Mormon has been a source of comfort and peace when I have struggled. It is a wonderful resource, and I love it. Please do open the book and read it. I’m not here to dissuade anyone from opening the Book of Mormon when they feel weak, discouraged, depressed, or afraid.
What I am here to say is that if you do open the Book of Mormon when you feel depressed or anxious, and you actually feel more depressed or anxious, you are not the only one. If you have never experienced this yourself, it is probably hard for you to imagine how the scriptures could ever make someone feel anxious or depressed. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t experienced it. But I have.
There was a period of time when reading the scriptures exacerbated my anxiety and depression. The only scriptures I could really read without feeling worse were Psalms, Proverbs, and the Book of Job. Psalms and Proverbs because they are mostly just uplifting and positive messages (nothing scary really). The Book of Job because the despair and anguish he felt were a reflection of my own, and he made me feel less alone in my misery. Job came out of his darkness to experience more joy than he had ever known before, and that gave me hope for myself. Unfortunately, even reading Psalms, Proverbs, and Job didn’t really make me feel better. They were just the only places in the scriptures that I could tolerate. When I couldn’t read the scriptures at all, God spoke to me through Truman Madsen, other spiritual authors, and through my husband, children, and friends.
The Book of Mormon, prayer, temple attendance, service… these are all wonderful things, and I encourage you to make them part of your worship. But I want to be a voice for a (perhaps small, and not likely vocal) group of people who have discovered to their own dismay that the scriptures, prayer, church/temple attendance, and service cannot always bring immediate peace or happiness. I myself prayed desperately for peace and comfort… day and night… for months that felt like years. Where do you turn for peace when all the sources that had worked for you in the past suddenly stop working? It’s a terrifying place to be. And I never want to be there again.
I don’t have all the answers. If you are in that terrifying place right now (where you can’t find peace anywhere… even in the “usual” places), my advice is to find what works for you. Keep trying to “split the sky” in whatever way you can. God is there, God loves you, and God wants to connect with you. You have not been abandoned in your darkness. Keep looking, keep breathing, keep trying. Keep swimming. If you can’t read the Book of Mormon, find something else uplifting that you can read or listen to.
Someone in Relief Society today said, “Happiness does follow righteousness.” I definitely believe it is true that we will be happier in this life and the next if we choose to stay close to God and be as righteous as we can. But I fear that we mislead our children and our brothers and sisters in the gospel if we tell them they will always be happy if they choose the right. Sometimes you can be righteous and diligent in every possible way and still feel miserable. I’d even go so far as to say, “Darkness follows righteousness.” The harder someone tries to be righteous, the more intense and oppositional the darkness can become. I try to teach my children to understand that there is light and joy and darkness and pain on the path to the tree of life. Experiencing darkness doesn’t mean you have strayed from the path. Sometimes it means you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.
Holding to the iron rod, in my experience, can be a life or death decision to seek out God’s voice by whatever means necessary. When the mists of darkness are so thick that the scriptures can’t even get through them, I can testify that God will never stop seeking you and speaking to you, and if you choose to cling to God’s voice, you will triumph.
I adore this video…