Earlier this year, we had Sacrament Meeting talks based on a General Conference address entitled, “God Shall Wipe Away All Tears,” by Elder Evan A. Schmutz.
It was one of those Sundays where the talks were really spot on, honest, and hit home. One of my friends spoke and talked about her experience with depression. I felt a kinship with her as she described her mental illness, but I was also proud of her, and of her openness and willingness to share that part of her life with the congregation. As more of us are open about mental illness, stigmas and stereotypes will be shattered as a result.
Feeling versus Covering Up
She brought up her mental illness, of course, because Elder Schmutz’ talk addresses this issue of struggles and trials. He said, “Without an ‘eye of faith’ and an understanding of eternal truth, we often find that the misery and suffering experienced in mortality can obscure or eclipse the eternal joy of knowing that the great plan of our Father in Heaven really is the eternal plan of happiness.”
He went on to say, “God invites us to respond with faith to our own unique afflictions in order that we may reap blessings and gain knowledge that can be learned in no other way.”
I don’t think that Elder Schmutz or Heavenly Father are asking that we deny ourselves the time and ability to feel misery or suffering. Sometimes I feel like we are expected to just shoulder through trials with a smile on our face, actively saying “This is hard but THIS IS ACTUALLY GREAT.” But I don’t think Heavenly Father expects us to do this. Sure, staying positive is a great goal. Optimism is a valuable principle. But there are times when we simply cannot stay positive, and dealing with a mental illness—literally being in the trenches with it—is a time when optimism often fails.
There are times when I think Heavenly Father expects us to have a good cry. I think there are times when we need to question the point of all that we are going through. There are times when our prayers are pleading and desperate and hope seems like a memory. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself in these times and part of you feels guilty because “well, we are supposed to be happy and joyful if we have the gospel, right?” Just remember that the joy sometimes comes later. It’s okay to be in pain. It’s okay to feel sorrow. That’s also part of the plan. Be honest with how you are feeling and let each emotion have its time and run its course.
I think being wise and patient in our trials and sufferings lead to that knowledge that Elder Schmutz mentioned. Patience can lead us to learn from our experiences. Then, when we look back, we can find that knowledge we gained along the way. We can discern how those trials shaped us and moved us where we needed to be.
Elder Schmutz said, “When we find ourselves laboring through tribulation, it can be difficult to see our trials as signposts on our personal trail of discipleship. But whether we find ourselves at times in the dark valley of despair or on the high road of happiness, learning from and feeling compassion for the sufferings of others can be a blessing.”
Our struggles help us empathize with others. They allow us to be more like the Savior, who also found Himself in both the dark valley of despair in Gethsemane and on the high road of happiness. So don’t feel guilty if you are in that valley because of mental illness—don’t feel as if you are unworthy if you have ended up there. Be honest with your emotions and with Heavenly Father in prayer. Have the courage to feel those emotions and express them. Then wait and see what happens next.
How do you stay honest to your emotions in hard times?