Tools to Defeat Despair

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.

2 Corinthians 4:8

Things rarely get fixed in my house. There are two reasons for that. First, I have the handyman skills of a badly trained parakeet. Second, I don’t buy tools, so that when an issue comes up I can honestly tell my wife, “I don’t have the tools for that. Sorry.” And then we hire someone who does.

Broken things require tools to fix them, whether it’s a table leg, a fuel pump, or a person’s spirit. Fortunately, when we face “trouble on every side,” we have at hand a well-stocked toolbox provided by the Lord that can save us from despair.

It isn’t difficult in our current circumstances to find people willing to admit that they aren’t in a good place. The world’s troubles have come in addition to our own personal crosses, not as a substitute for them. But for many of us, acknowledging that times are difficult, that we don’t have all of the answers, and that we feel more like crying than smiling feels like a denial of our faith. Once we have committed to Christ, shouldn’t our thorns and thistles be replaced with unicorns and butterflies?

Christian discipleship doesn’t require us to be in denial of our difficulties. It isn’t apostasy to admit that things could be better. It is far healthier to recognize the things that are burdening our souls, and then turn to the Lord’s toolbox to find a way to fix the despair that we feel.

Note that we seek to fix the despair, not necessarily the underlying conditions that led to it. We don’t enjoy complete control of our environments, but we can change how we feel about them. One of the great truths about the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that it has the ability to change everything without changing anything.

What I have learned from facing (at the very least) my fair share of hardships is that despondency drains the Spirit from us…both with a capital and a lower-case “s.” The best way to counteract that is to do the things that most quickly reconnect us with the Holy Ghost. So we turn to the toolbox to see what we have.

Not every person is the same, nor is every situation. Because of that, the Lord offers us several tools to restore our connection with the divine. You probably know what works best for you already, and ironically, it is probably the first thing you gave up when you started to feel down.

For me, if I listen to sacred music, it stills my soul and helps me feel for the divine. I get much the same from meditation. My wife finds joy in dance, which seems to me to be a type of prayer for her. Other people can take a deep dive into the scriptures or spend more time in prayer. There are any number of things that can lift sagging spirits.

More often we find that we restore ourselves by not focusing on ourselves or our internal needs. Finding someone else in need or in harm’s way, and offering whatever balm we possess, is probably the surest and quickest way to awaken us spiritually and defeat the demons of despair and depression.

Rummage through that toolbox. Find the tool that brings you the most joy while inviting you and enticing to believe in Christ and feel His spirit. The tool is in there. Discover it and put it to work.

…we faint not, but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4:16.

In Patience Possess Ye Your Souls

In your patience possess ye your souls.

Luke 21:19

Fishing is anathema to me. I’ve never understood people with the patience to cast a line into the water, then sit back and wait for something to happen. Maybe the beer helps. I wouldn’t know. But the appeal of the sport is completely lost on me. I’m just not a patient man.

I’ve worked on it. I’ve learned to meditate, which has even less excitement than fishing, but at least you are indoors. I’ve tried to be slower to respond to offenses and quieter when I do respond. I’ve even enjoyed a littler success along the way. I was shocked recently when a colleague said that he couldn’t imagine me losing my temper. Truth be told, we hadn’t spent that much time together.

But what is it about patience that the Lord would say that through patience we would possess (Greek: preserve or have mastery over) our souls?

It helps, I think, to consider what happens when we aren’t patient. Impatience travels with several unseemly cohorts. Anger is the most notable, but there are others. Impatience breeds rashness, doubt, distrust, and anxiety. When we lose our patience, we find that we have hamstrung out ability to make prudent decisions, and we tend to act at our worst instead of our best.

It may be that Satan’s second most pervasive characteristic, after pride, was impatience. He did not want to wait and see what would happen as people stumbled their way through mortality, nor was he willing to have the patience for Christ to work out the Atonement. He wanted guaranteed results, locked in immediately, even if it meant putting or agency in chains.

By contrast, we are told to wait on the Lord, to be patient enough to see His plans for us unfold. We are counseled to be patient in afflictions and to trust that they will eventually exalt us. We are told to be still.

When we are patient, we are demonstrating our faith in God. We are placing our trust in Him. We are showing our love to Him by conceding to His schedule. Even when it appears that the bridegroom is late, we don’t begrudge His tardiness, but celebrate His arrival.

Too often we pray to have patience, but we want it right now!

Robert D. Hales

The Hope of the Righteous

The hope of the righteous shall be gladness.

Proverbs 10:28

Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I suffered chronic inner ear infections. These infections caused a number of symptoms, the most annoying of which was vertigo Everywhere I went, I felt like I was in a villain’s lair in the old Batman television series, with everything at a slant. It was miserable going through the day with such feelings of instability. Picking a direction for your day isn’t easy when the world keeps moving.

I have no idea how people handled it in the 60s.

Today, the world leaves me no less unsettled. Our health, security, and moral centering are under siege on a multitude of fronts. Even though as Latter-day Saints we anticipate such times, once we are deep in the mists of darkness, it is hard not to despair. And despair is the arch-enemy of hope.

In 2008, President Uchtdorf referred to hope as one leg of a three-legged stool that, along with faith and charity, “stabilize our lives regardless of the rough or uneven surfaces we might encounter at the time.” But what are we supposed to hope for?

Certainly we have hope in the Atonement of Christ, that through Him resurrection and eternal life can be obtained. We hope that the Plan of Salvation made allowances for the things we see around us and won’t be upended by opposition. We hope that we will someday enjoy peace and serenity.

But hope needs to be more than a “then and there” thing. Hope is a “here and now” principal that can have a stabilizing effect as we stand on shifting ground. If our only hope is after this life, we are unlikely to find much joy, as “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” The invisible, even if inevitable, sometimes isn’t enough.

So what can we hope for here and now?

We can hope that the Lord will strengthen our hearts and insulate us from despair.

We can hope that circumstances will change, and that every night will be dispelled by the light of day.

We can hope that people’s hearts can change, and that through good choices and the grace of God, people–even ourselves–can be transformed into something better.

We can hope that love will prove stronger than hate. Faith stronger than fear. Right more powerful than wrong.

We can hope for all of these things, because they are part of the promised blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Atonement of Christ is about transformation, from life to death, from sin to salvation. It promises that circumstances and people can change, and that our Heavenly Father’s Plan is perfect and will win out in the end.

This is why we are charged to carry the gospel to the world and model gospel principles to those around us. Only the gospel of Christ is able to deliver on all its promises and give us hope both here and hereafter.

It is the only way any of us find firm footing when others’ hearts fail them. We know today is a challenge, and we hope for better times to come. And we look forward to those better days with eyes of faith and trusting hearts.

Hope . . . is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion, and of fear.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

The Waning Virtue of Integrity

Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.

Job 27:5

When my daughters were little, and it was my job to drop them off at school, I always did so with this bit of sage advice: “Be good. And if you can’t be good, be sneaky.”

This questionable guiding light of morality was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, and (for the most part) was received that way. I meant it as an absurdity.

Unfortunately, the absurd has become the norm. From politics to sports; business to personal relationships, integrity seems to play an increasingly unimportant role. More disturbingly, it isn’t merely absent, but unexpected.

Increasingly, we define our character not by complying to independent moral standards, but the demands of the moment. Then we excuse ourselves by comparing the weight of our misdeeds with that of others. As integrity fades from the public stage, we excuse our own conduct by pointing to someone else and saying, “Well, at least I didn’t do that.” I suspect that this defense works no better with the Lord than it does with my wife. Celestial behavior is not measured on a sliding scale.

Christ taught that truth matters. That obedience to God matters. That staying true to the principles we have learned and the covenants we have made is the only way to live life abundantly. The integrity He expects of us is to align our hearts and habits with His.

But only all the time. The Book of Job teaches us that integrity isn’t situational. It isn’t to be abandoned when times are hard or when we feel forgotten. It is not to be set aside and picked up again when needed, as we may find ourselves turning out our pockets and muttering, “I just had it here somewhere.”

As Latter-day Saints, let’s make a better effort to ensure that in dealing with us, people will know exactly what to expect: Good, not sneaky.

The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.

Jeffrey R. Holland

A Foundation of Small Stones

And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.

Doctrine and Covenants 64:33

In the fall of 1978, I walked through the Sacred Grove with my brother. He had just completed his mission in Rochester New York, and my family had driven from California to the East Coast to pick him up. He was our family’s first missionary, and a hero in my 12-year old eyes.

As we walked, he recited from memory Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision. As he talked in that holy place where God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to a boy not much older than me, I had my first identifiable experience with the Holy Ghost. There was no light. No personages appeared. There was no voice telling me that all junior high schools were an abomination and I should join none of them. But what I felt, I felt, and that small moment became the first small stone in my foundation of faith.

Sometimes we think of a testimony as a momentous confirmation of Truth on the road to Damascus, and as a result we overlook the multitude of smaller, quieter confirmations that God is real, and we are real to Him. Testimonies rarely come from shouts of heavenly hosts; more often, they develop from whispers of the Spirit that are easy to miss.

These small experiences–the moment a talk or lesson touches your heart, a feeling during a family member’s baptism or a child’s blessing, the unexpected but desperately needed ministration of an earthly angel–are the tiny stones that make up the foundation of our faith and testimony. Each needs to be treasured and remembered, because taken together they can transform us.

A testimony then, for some people, may come through a single and irrefutable event. But for others, it may come through a process of experiences that, perhaps not as remarkable but when combined, testify in an indisputable way that what we have learned and lived is true.

Carlos A. Godoy

The God of All Comfort

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

These are times of trouble and tribulation. We are beset with pestilence, violence, financial woes, all on top of the common day-to-day challenges we always have faced. Many of us have lost loved ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic or we have people we care deeply about who are in harm’s way. It may be fairly said that these are the days in which people’s hearts are “failing them for fear.” (Luke 21:26).

In the face of such adversity and uncertainty, we fairly ask, “Where may I turn for peace?” The answer is threefold:

The Holy Ghost: The Comforter promised by the Savior, who promised never to leave us comfortless. He stands ready to be our constant companion, even on the most difficult of journeys.

The Savior: He who called himself the other Comforter, who by His suffering knows personally and perfectly all that we are called upon to endure and who is uniquely qualified and empowered to heal our hurts.

Our Father in Heaven: The God of all comfort, who would remind us that we are His children, and as a perfect parent, He will hold us until the pain subsides and our fears are overcome.

More than ever, we need to look heavenward for the comfort that we desperately need. Then we need to follow the counsel of Paul and, having received salve for our own wounds, provide comfort to those around us and help bind up their injuries as well.

While “social distancing” may be the current mortal mandate, spiritual solidarity remains as the ultimate cure.

Considering the incomprehensible cost of the Crucifixion and Atonement, I promise you He is not going to turn His back on us now. When He says to the poor in spirit, “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way.

Jeffrey R. Holland

Who is Your Lord?

“Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men…”

Ezekial 16:17

It’s all about image. In Old Testament times, God’s people were enticed by the cultures and religions they encountered, which often featured the worship of idols made of precious metals or jewels. As their eyes focused on these images, they lost sight of the true God and the gifts He had given them.

Today, rather than turning outwards towards graven images, it is our own images we worship. We fret over the possibility that the fellow next to us might have a sleeker car, a bigger home, or a nicer suit. We long for flashy flat screen TVs and flatter abs. We need the right clothes, right hair (if we still have any), and heaven forbid if we miss a visit to the nail salon. It as if we are making of ourselves artificial images for others to worship. And, as with idols, inside there is emptiness.

James and Judith McConkie have observed: “If the center of your allegiance is yourself, your religious exactitude, your own personal comfort and pleasure, your politics, your profession, your hobbies, your bank account–something other than God and neighbor–then you cannot convincingly call yourself a Christian. In the final analysis, it is what we decide to love that really counts.” (Whom Say Ye That I Am?, 79).

“The requirement that we should love the Lord above fish, bank accounts, automobiles, fine clothing, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, or any other possession is total; it is absolute.”

James E. Faust

“…their hatred was fixed…”

Enos 1:20:
“And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature….”

“Fixed” in this verse should be understood in the sense of affixed or firmly secured to something. In Enos’s time, as in ours, people were divided along lines of immutable characteristics. For them, it was which branch of the family of Lehi they descended from. For us, at least today, it is race. And for those who petition for peace, those pleas seem hopeless when thrown against animosity and hatred that is deeply felt, deeply rooted…fixed.

The Savior ministered in a time of rooted hatred as well, and his proclamations of peace must have seemed idealistic, naive, or barking mad. But His message was simple, not simplistic: Love one another. Go out of your way to encounter, embrace and serve. Seek out the Samaritan. Lift up the leper. Salve the wounds of the sinner.

Breaking away from fixed hatreds and being able to see the divine in others is difficult, but not unprecedented. Paul, Alma the Younger, Lamoni’s father…All of them experienced a “mighty change” in their hearts, so mighty that it uprooted all that they had been before and made them new people. Better people. Christian people.

Difficult though it may be in turbulent times, the Lord is trusting us, as His disciples and emissaries, to think, speak, and act as He would. With love.

I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ.” Gordon B. Hinckley