In this April’s General Conference, Elder Renlund gave a beautiful talk entitled, “Our Good Shepherd,” which detailed how Christ views and treats all of us as His sheep as well as how we ought to treat each other.
Disease and Affliction
He focuses on sin quite a bit, and how Christ didn’t refuse or avoid sinners but rather healed, taught, and ministered to them. He compared the love of a shepherd who helps his diseased sheep with Christ, saying that “God uses disease as a metaphor for sin throughout the scriptures.” Elder Renlund remarked that “As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ views disease in His sheep as a condition that needs treatment, care, and compassion.”
Relating this to mental illness and health rather than spiritual sin, I think we could say that Christ also views those of us who struggle with compassion. At the most recent OCD Conference, Dr. Ted Witzig, Jr. remarked in a session about religious scrupulosity that we should view OCD as an “affliction” and then ask ourselves how God feels about and treats those who are afflicted.
I think we would all agree that Christ and Heavenly Father treat the afflicted with generosity, love, and patience. Dr. Witzig’s point was that, as we remember that fact, we will increase our own self-compassion and treat ourselves with the same love that Christ shows us.
We can remember, as Elder Renlund taught, that our conditions and mental health issues also need “treatment, care, and compassion.” Just as Christ didn’t “flinch[…] at the sight of sinners [or…] dodge them in abject horror,” as Elder Renlund stated, He also won’t flinch, dodge, or avoid those of us who have mental health struggles. Instead, He wants to embrace and help us.
Drawing Us Closer
Elder Renlund said that “the Savior’s compassion, love, and mercy draw us toward Him.” In the beginning of his talk, he similarly stated that “the Savior’s compassion in the face of our imperfections draws us toward Him and motivates us in our repeated struggles to repent and emulate Him.”
I love this idea that Elder Renlund proposes that rather than fear and punishment, the Savior motivates us toward positive change through love and mercy. That was another message from some of the speakers at OCD Con, particularly Shala Nicely, who reminded us that self compassion is more motivating when dealing with OCD than is beating ourselves up for our flaws and mistakes.
Every Story Matters
In the end of his talk, Elder Renlund reminds us to treat others who are different or have different opinions than we do with this same compassion and mercy. He outlined the meanings of persecution and bigotry and said that “everyone, including people of religion, has the right to express his or her opinions in the public square. But no one has a license to be hateful toward others as those opinions are expressed.”
This statement is applicable to our world and society in so many ways, but I wanted to focus on mental health, of course. I have personally seen and read about how some of us who have mental health issues are sometimes belittled or otherwise given harsh criticism for stating our opinions about mental illness and even telling our stories. But, like Elder Renlund said, we all have the right to express our opinions and our stories. We may not agree with others, but we cannot say that their story is wrong or doesn’t deserve to be told.
I’m grateful for Elder Renlund’s talk and its important reminders to show love and compassion to ourselves, remember the Savior’s love and compassion for us, and to show that compassion to others.