[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, April 2017.]
In her wonderful talk, “Teaching the Doctrine of the Family,” Sister Julie Beck said that the three great “Pillars of Eternity” were put in place in support of eternal families. She said,
The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. God created a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan that Adam and Eve be sealed and form an eternal family.
The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. Adam and Eve were family leaders who chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for them to have sons and daughters.
The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally. It allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness, also called the plan of salvation, was a plan created for families.
When we speak of qualifying for the blessings of eternal life, we mean qualifying for the blessings of eternal families.
Families are, of course, wonderful. But, as we all know, the fact that family relationships exist does not mean that there is nothing but constant goodness and harmony inside those relationships. Being married in the temple certainly does not, by itself, make for a celestial marriage. Nor does going to Church together every Sunday guarantee that Dad and Mom will be kind to each other at home, that youth will be honest with their parents, or that brothers and sisters will be loving and supportive of one another.
Yet, regardless of our current family situation—whether in a mostly happy family or a too-frequently unhappy family; whether divorced or not yet married—we must realize that Sister Beck is teaching true doctrine: each of us living in and contributing toward a successful eternal family is the ultimate goal and has been the purpose of our Heavenly Father’s plan for us from the beginning. He wants us not only to return to Him, but to return to live as He lives. That means men becoming great husbands, co-leaders, and fathers. And it means women becoming great wives, co-leaders, and mothers.
This morning we answered questions submitted by youth. Among the many excellent questions submitted, this one was one of my favorites: “How can I prepare to be a good wife and mother?” It would be good if every young woman asked herself that question frequently—and if every young man frequently asked himself how he can prepare to become a world-class husband and father.
To the youth listening today, I repeat: your becoming great partners in a marriage and great parents to your children is the destiny God desires for you. Perhaps in this life, but certainly in eternity, nothing that I know of will bring you greater joy and satisfaction. For me, I am nowhere near the great husband and father that I need to become, but in addition to keeping myself aligned with God, those are, by far, my most important personal goals.
For those sisters with unfulfilled desires to marry or who have been let down in marriage, I suggest patience, faith, and ongoing preparation—and assure you that you have our support and respect. Patience is one of those things that sounds really great until you’re the one who has to be great at it, but the alternatives are even harder. Please do all you can to remain (or become) aspirational in this regard.
Now, how do we create harmony and goodness in our families and within our family relationships?
Let me share with you three instances of personal failure related to that question in the hopes that they will be instructive. There are many moments in my life I feel ashamed of, but I’ll limit today’s sharing to just three. All three of these were during my youth.
The first is a very specific moment. I am the third of five children. The oldest is my one brother and numbers 2, 4, and 5 are my sisters. We didn’t fight much in our family. My brother never fought with anyone, period, ever. My older sister and I were probably the two feistiest of the children, with me the worst. One evening when I was probably about 10 years old and my older sister about 13, she and I got into a fight about something. She being three years older than I and, hence, able to easily beat me up, I knew to keep our fight to words and not to fisticuffs.
I have no idea today what we were fighting about that evening but something made us both angry and things escalated to mean words right on the edge of getting physical. I don’t recall what she said to me but I remember at one point being so angry and wanting to lash out so badly that I considered what I knew to be the nuclear option. I knew full well that there was one word I could use that would cut her to her very core and hurt her more than anything. For a split-second I weighed in my mind whether I should say something so hurtful (I can remember this moment like it was five minutes ago) and to my shame I let my worst demons get the better of me. And the moment I did, I knew it hurt her just like I expected.
To Lauri’s tremendous credit, I feel today no sense of lingering bitterness over that moment years ago and probably other moments that I don’t remember so well. She is a tireless wife and mother with a wonderful family and a great soul. It’s my privilege to be her brother, and I very much wish that I did not hurt her that day like I did.
The second story isn’t really a story. It’s just more of a general bad memory—in this case, involving my two younger sisters. When I was about 17, Michelle and Nanette were about 15 and 10. My older brother and sister had gone off to adulthood and I was the oldest of the three kids left at home. My life was pretty good. I wasn’t the most popular at school or the smartest or the best athlete or anything, but I had friends, did well in school, had a good job, had a lot of fun, and generally enjoyed a very positive life.
My younger sisters—both of whom, like my older sister, were and are wonderful people—weren’t having as smooth of a time as I was. Being 15 is hard under virtually any circumstance. Being a 15-year-old girl certainly brings challenges I’ve never experienced. I didn’t really know much about the challenges Michelle was facing because I wasn’t really paying attention to Michelle even though we were fairly close together in age. I was paying even less attention, probably, to Nanette who was even further removed from me in age.
And this is the problem. I was completely self-absorbed. Far too focused on myself to give any thought to how my younger sisters were doing and how an older brother might have helped them. I couldn’t have removed their challenges for them, but I believe I could have done much more to validate them and to encourage their confidence by showing genuine love and interest in them and by spending some time focused on them. I didn’t.
Whereas my sin with my older sister was one of commission in calling her something hurtful, my sin with my younger sisters was one of omission—for failing to even show up as the older sibling they probably could have used.
The last of my three stories did not occur in a regular family setting but it is instructive nevertheless.
I was called to a mission in northern Germany. My two months in the MTC were wonderful. I made good friends, we worked really, really hard together. We were anxious to be great missionaries and, after two months in the MTC learning and thinking about how to be a great missionary,… I had all the answers.
When I met my trainer in Germany, it took me no time at all to be disappointed. This is not to my credit.
Elder Barton knew how to do two things really well. In retrospect, he knew how to do two things exceptionally well. He worked hard and he was obedient. At the time, I figured those things were pretty good, but I thought that working “smarter” was a whole lot better than working “harder.” Elder Barton and I left our apartment every morning at 9:30. I don’t recall it ever being 9:31. We came home every evening at 9:30. I don’t recall it ever being 9:29. For 11 of the 12 hours in between every day, we knocked on doors—and sometimes we ran between doors.
I thought I was so much smart. I felt bad that I was not assigned to someone who would focus on members both active and less active—and use his teaching skills and people skills to extract golden investigators from them. I knew everything there was to know about missionary work and I regretted my misfortune. What an immature fool l was! Fortunately, it only took me about a month to figure that out and grow up.
If I could assign a mission companion today to any of my children or to any youth from our stake, I would pick someone just like Elder Barton. We did the two things that mattered most. We worked really hard. And we were meticulously obedient. And the Lord blessed us. How embarrassed I feel today to think that I thought myself smarter or better than Elder Barton. And how grateful I am that he and the Lord taught me to grow up a little. I cannot begin to tell you how much I love and respect Elder Barton today and how grateful I am for him.
In those three sad stories are three lessons for happiness in family life.
From my story with Lauri, it’s easy to see how a lack of self-control can damage a family relationship.
From my story with Michelle and Nanette, it’s easy to see that to be a good sibling (or spouse or parent or child), you have to show up and care and quit focusing your whole self on yourself.
From my story with Elder Barton, it’s easy to see how pride and a lack of humility can keep a person from learning and growing and from seeing clearly. Humility and gratitude are so much better!
The Church’s “Proclamation to the World” describes with fundamental clarity the path to happiness in our family lives—and, I believe, in our personal lives. It says:
Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of:
- work, and
- wholesome recreational activities.
In his 2007 talk titled “Divorce,” Elder Dallin Oaks said to members who are contemplating divorce, “I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness. The first step is not separation but reformation.”
Implicit in his references to repentance and reformation is the idea that I need to focus on my repentance and reformation, not my spouse’s need for repentance and reformation.
It stands to reason that unhappiness in family life is most likely the result of departures from the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ—and that at least part of the answer lies in successfully exercising the control that I can exercise over my own contributions to:
- Work, and
- Wholesome recreational activities.
I should not have to say but will also mention… Our doctrine is that men and women are equals. A man’s priesthood office gives him the responsibility to serve his wife, not the right to exercise authority over her in any regard.
On this Easter Sunday, let us see clearly the connection between the Doctrine of the Family and the Savior. He atoned for our sins that we might gain the joy that comes to celestial marriages and celestial families. Our achieving that goal rests upon our placing Him and His gospel at the center of our lives. Actually achieving celestial marriages and celestial families depends on each of us acquiring His attributes and in treating each other the way He would and does. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference April 2016.]
You have already been asked tonight to do a couple of things. I’m going to ask you to do one more thing, which is to believe the gospel. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
The word gospel very literally means “good news.”
In the first chapter of Mark, King James Version, the first words we hear from the Savior are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (In many other translations, those last words read: “repent and believe the good news.” In the New Century Version, the Savior says, “Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!” – exclamation point!)
We need to believe the good news. We need to receive it and accept it.
What is the good news? The good news is that, because of the Savior, His Atonement, and His Grace, we have a clear path back to our Father in Heaven. But there is more. The good news includes that this path is not impossible. It does not require perfection in this life—nor does it require us to be constantly or even frequently weighed down and disheartened by our shortcomings and weaknesses. The good news is that the one who will ultimately judge us is the same one who will be our advocate. The good news is that to all of life’s other challenges we do not need to add the burdens of feeling inadequate, unworthy, and imperfect—even though we are all inadequate, and imperfect. Rather, we are free to embrace the Good News and all the joy, positive anticipation, and buoyancy that comes from believing it.
Am I suggesting that we get a free pass and don’t have to do anything? No, but between the lie that you don’t have to do anything and the lie that you have to do and be everything (which is the lie I’m trying to address here) is the truth that the Lord wants our commitment to our covenants and He wants our hearts to be humble, contrite, sincere, and—in a wonderful and liberating sense—broken. He requires our striving, but He does not require our perfection right now and he does not require you to beat yourself up over your imperfection. In fact, what He wants is for you to believe the gospel—the good news—which is that if you give him your sincere, broken heart and your sincere effort in support of your covenants (and surely many here today do), then He has you and your inadequacies and deficiencies covered. His grace is sufficient.
Consider D&C 88:33. I talk about this little verse a lot, but I don’t think I’ve been teaching it very effectively, so I’m going to keep trying. In this verse, the Savior asks this question:
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices no in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
Alternatively: For what doth it profit a woman if a gift is bestowed upon her, and she receive not the gift? Behold, she rejoices not in that which is given unto her, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
A gift has been and is being offered to you and me. It is a gift of kindness, a gift of generosity, a gift of mercy, a gift of grace, a gift of perfect love. Will we receive it? Will you—do you—really believe the gospel, the good news? Jesus once dined with a man named Zacchaeus and said to him: “This day is salvation come to this house.” Brothers and Sisters, salvation has come to your house. The question is whether you will receive it. And to fully receive it, you’re going to have to “drop your burden at His feet and bear a song away.” You’re going to have to believe that He has taken your burden. You will have to be yoked with Him, but His burden is light.
A few weeks ago, I decided to read Pilgrim’s Promise by John Bunyan, written in England in the 1600s. It is an allegory about a man and his wife making the difficult journey to heaven. At the beginning, the hero (his name is Christian) labors down the strait and narrow path with a heavy sack on his back that he is unable to shed. But there comes a point early in his journey when he encounters the traditional symbol of the Savior: the cross; and when he comes to it and worships there, his burden miraculously falls from his back. He is not done facing adversity. He still faces difficulties and tests and he still has to avoid making major mistakes along the way, but from that point on, he does so without being crushed by the weight of his own imperfection.
It is a good allegory. You and I will have plenty of adversity and difficulties and tests during our life. Repentance from all of our sins should be constant, lifelong effort. If we sin in particularly egregious ways, we should turn to the bishop for help right away and he will help. But there is no need to face life’s many challenges with the unnecessary burden of our defects and petty sins weighing us down.
In our particularly intense LDS culture in Utah County, we are especially adept at setting aside the good news in favor of the bad news which we tend to heap upon ourselves which weakens the quality of our lives. We do things like this:
- We insist on comparing ourselves to others as a means of depressing ourselves almost like we’re addicted to it. In doing so, we reject the truth that the standard we really need to measure up to is the generous and compassionate one the Lord offers us.
- We insist on appearing as near-perfect as we can toward each other. We over-stress about our outward physical and spiritual appearance and the appearance of our things and we keep our challenges so private that we create the destructive illusion of being virtually problem-free. We sort of air-brush the outward appearance of our lives to others lest we will not be accepted.
Two siblings will sometimes play a game of “villain and victim.” One pokes the other and then the other screams and whines about being poked. Mom gets upset with one who then blames the other and everybody gets lots of attention from Mom. We sometimes make a similar arrangement with each other. I decide I’ll try to look perfect and you decide to believe that I’m perfect. I get to enjoy the pride of someone thinking I’m really great and you get to enjoy the misery of feeling inadequate. Like the two children, neither of us really ends up happy.
- We take the concepts of self-reliance and works too far. Are you supposed to do all that you can do? Of course. Are you supposed to give it your all? Of course. Should good works accompany your faith? Of course. Will you save yourself? No chance. Will your good works save you? No chance. None. It is good to humbly do our very best while living a religion of complete and total surrender to and reliance on Him who becomes the father of our rebirth. We are totally dependent on Him and we ought to acknowledge that and rejoice in His perfect reliability.
- We pound ourselves with what seems to be the literal meaning of Matthew 5:48: be ye therefore perfect. I reject the apparent meaning of that verse as it stands alone. Do I hope to become perfect one day like my Father in Heaven? Do I think that I should strive to become perfect? But I believe the rest of the doctrine taught in the scriptures about perfection, which includes the fact that He will perfect me; He will make me whole and complete as I yield my heart to Him. I cannot insist on my own immediate perfection and, at the same time, receive the gift He offers me, which gift is the very means of letting go of the burden of my imperfection.
- Lastly, we judge others too harshly. We forget that the gift that is offered to us is also offered to them and that the Lord sees things in their hearts we’ll never see. He also knows all the background and backstory. His bowels are filled with compassion and mercy toward the broken-hearted. We would do well to judge enough to keep ourselves safe—and little or no more than that.
Why is it that so many good people trying so hard hesitate so much when asked the temple recommend question, “Do you feel worthy to enter the temple?”
I was so thrilled to hear Elder Bednar’s talk in this last General Conference. Quite frequently I have asked people during interviews, “Is it possible that you could be sitting here with me right now just as clean as you were when you exited the waters of baptism?” Many people seem confused by the question. It does not seem to register that they could be spiritually clean today. But how else could any of us possibly have a hope of making it to heaven, into which no unclean thing may enter?
Elder Bednar taught that it is possible, as King Benjamin taught, for us to always retain a remission of our sins. You and I can be retaining a remission of our sins right now, at this very moment. Surely a great many here are doing exactly that. Yet too many are unwilling to believe the Good News and say with humble confidence, “Yes, I am worthy to enter the temple.”
Notice that in the same verse from King Benjamin which references “always retaining a remission of your sins,” these two phrases are also present: 1) “[ye shall] be filled with the love of God” and, 2) “ye shall always rejoice.”
We frequently teach that covenants are “two-way promises” and we correctly focus on the promises we make through covenants. But the Lord would like us to receive the gift of his promises to us and He would like us to rejoice in them. Remember, that when we receive the gift, He also rejoices “who is the giver of the gift.”
We have a tendency to under-appreciate the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He will testify to us of the Savior. He will help bring all things necessary to our remembrance. He may provide warnings to us on occasion. But He also sanctifies and cleanses us as we remember and follow the Savior. Elder Bednar speaks of the Holy Ghost providing “ongoing cleansing” for us. In that we may rejoice, indeed, and be of good cheer.
In the time I have spent outside of Utah County, mostly in Seattle, I have been close to two groups of notably religious people: Mormons and Evangelical (or “born-again”) Christians. I have long noticed and been impressed by the smiles and happiness of my born-again Christian friends. I have also been impressed, though not in a particularly good way, by the muted happiness of so many Mormons. Clearly, the true doctrine and restored authority within the LDS Church should make us the most Christian people on the earth. And therefore nobody should have a greater understanding of the reasons why—or greater reasons to embrace the reasons why—we may feel so much joy inside ourselves that it is also outwardly noticeable.
Brothers and Sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of joy and peace. That joy and peace isn’t just for disciples of the Savior who have no problems. All disciples of the Savior have problems. Some of them are very acute. You may have worries and struggles right now that are just eating you inside out. You may be struggling with health, with employment and finances, with testimony, with addiction, with your marriage, with loneliness, discouragement or depression—or perhaps even more difficult, you may be intensely hurting for loved ones who are struggling with those things and whose struggles you cannot remove.
The good news of the gospel extends both to you and to the ones you love and worry about the most.
The message of the gospel includes hope and optimism and trust. I join so many of you when I say that when we place our trust in God, when we lean on Him, when we receive His gift and drop our burden at His feet… in those moments our trust is well placed. It is, in fact, perfectly placed.
May each of you feel a great sense of joy and life and hope and buoyancy through the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May you receive the gift with both humility and confidence in Him. May we trust in Him who is perfectly trustworthy and who has your very best interests (and those of your loved ones) as His interests.
I testify that John the Baptist, Joseph Smith, President Monson and 14 other living special witnesses—and the Savior, Himself—have come bearing Good News. I pray that you and I will believe it, accept it, and allow Him to lift the burden of our shortcomings and failures from off our backs. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Emily Juchau at the Back-to-School Fireside for Parents, August 2015.]
The Juchau family doesn’t believe in “grounding.” When we get in trouble, we have to speak at stake events.
I’d like to start out by telling you a happy story. About ten months ago, my family went on a brief trip to Disneyland. And that’s the end of the happy part of the story; it’s all terrible from here on out. When you go to Disneyland, you don’t really expect to leave with the kind of life lessons you can talk about in church, but that’s just a reminder that horrible things can happen to you anywhere. Constant vigilance.
Anyway, we were all looking forward to the trip, because it’s Disneyland, the alleged “happiest place on Earth.” I was especially excited because my job was and is pretty high-stress. Disneyland seemed like the perfect way to de-stress, especially considering that I’d been feeling anxiety for about a month before the vacation. Just little, uncomfortable moments when I experienced fear when there was nothing to be afraid of, but it was manageable, and I figured that by getting out of Utah for a while I might also get out of my own head.
To my eternal chagrin—and this is an example of the kind of classic irony that would make my life a great sitcom—the opposite happened. Instead of feeling better, I felt worse, and two days into our trip, while we were standing in line for a ride, at Disneyland, I experienced my first-ever full-fledged panic attack.
It was horrible. I was weak and nauseated and cold—my whole body was shaking, and I thought I might faint or throw up or drop dead. It was so terrifying that my parents took me out of the park to a nearby Urgent Care. There, the nurses took samples of my blood and an EKG, and the doctor diagnosed me with a basic panic disorder. I remember that he came into the room where I was waiting with my parents to receive this information, and he said, “Well, Emily, what in the world are you so worried about?”
At the time, I was too ill to think clearly. If I’d been in my right mind, I may have responded, “Well, doctor, I’m a junior in college studying English in a world where an English degree won’t get you anywhere. The cost of tuition is rising, and so are nationwide unemployment rates. I work in a field that is shrinking more and more by the minute. I don’t know why I’m shaking; I don’t know why I want to vomit; I wish my body would remember how to breathe. Meanwhile the Ebola virus is running rampant on the other side of the world, earthquakes ravage and ruin lives in Chile, China, and Nepal, and you can’t even go to a movie theater or a first grade classroom without wondering whether you’ll get shot. What in the world, doctor, shouldn’t I be worried about?”
What I actually said was something like “Ebola and stuff.” So he prescribed Xanax, and I spent the last two days of our vacation in a drugged stupor.
I wish I could say that everything’s been uphill from there, but that isn’t true. Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, I can take a little white pill every morning and feel just like normal. But it took a while to find the correct dosage, and until then I continued having occasional panic attacks, sometimes at home, sometimes at work, sometimes in class. Sometimes I still have moments of anxiety. I never found a good therapist, and in fact it’s nearly impossible to schedule a first-time appointment fewer than four months in advance, which ought to tell you exactly how prevalent my problem, and problems like mine, are.
Mental illness, I think, isn’t a topic we’re very comfortable with, despite how widespread it is. We live in a society that stigmatizes it. We know how to sympathize with cancer patients and amputees, but we freeze up when we hear about schizophrenia and bipolar disorder or anxiety and depression. Our brains are our most important assets; when they fail, even if it’s only for a minute, we get very nervous. We don’t even want to talk about our own struggles with mental health, because we worry that we’ll seem crazy or needy or pathetic. Although we’re social creatures who require the acceptance and warmth of others, we believe that if we stay silent, our minds will heal themselves and we can return to normal independently.
I will be the first to tell you that there are wounds you can keep to yourself. Frankly, no one cares about a papercut—you put a Band-Aid on it, it’ll be all better within two days, and complaining won’t get you anywhere. But for some reason, we have the same attitude about mental health, and that’s about the dumbest move we could possibly make, because you can’t fix a disorder of the mind with a Band-Aid. A depressed person cannot simply square their shoulders and smile to feel better, and someone having a panic attack can’t just tell themselves to calm down. When I’m having a panic attack, believe me, I would like nothing more than to calm down. The problem is that my brain won’t let me.
The Shakespeare play Hamlet comes to mind, probably because I’m an English major and I’ve studied it about seven times in the last three years. Hamlet’s mental health is one of the most important conflicts of the play; he seems to be depressed and struggles with thoughts of suicide. Early on in the play, long before his famous “to be or not to be” speech, he outlines what he’s going through, from his father’s death to his mother’s rapid remarriage, to how horrible and betrayed it makes him feel. He wishes that he could explain these problems but feels he can’t. “Break, my heart,” he says, “for I must hold my tongue.”
He chooses, fatally, as it turns out, for himself and for his friends and family, to stay silent. Break, my heart, for I held my tongue.
My friends, we are not meant to suffer in silence. God did not make us social creatures only so we could deny ourselves and each other sympathy and aid in our times of greatest need. We don’t read of many instances of mental illness in the scriptures, but I am reminded of the moments leading up to the Atonement, when Christ requested that Peter, James, and John stay awake and pray while he went into the garden to do what would amount to the greatest and most difficult act in the fabric of our universe. While Luke focuses on Christ’s physical agony and the drops of blood like sweat from his every pore, Matthew lingers on his emotional state, writing that Christ was “sorrowful” and “very heavy.” It seems to me that Christ, when he was about to face the greatest possible pain known to the history of the world, felt the kind of depression and fear that can render us immobile. And although he was empowered with divine strength and courage, he asked for help. He wanted his friends. He needed his Father. That didn’t make him weak or pathetic or needy. It serves as a reminder to me every day that some things I cannot and should not do alone.
I urge you to be open about your mental health, with yourselves, with each other, and especially with your children. Kids sort of believe that adulthood means having the solution to every problem and never needing help, when in fact the opposite is true. It’s the hope of every parent that their child or children will grow up to be happy and healthy and successful, and I promise you that they will be happier, healthier, and more successful for having grown up in a home where mental illness isn’t a secret, where they have learned to respond to their own inner problems and to empathize with the problems of others.
Your kids are entering a new school year, whether they do so as college students, like me, or as teenagers or even as smaller children, and although I am not a parent, it is my incredible privilege to give you parenting advice anyway.
First, promote mental wellness in your homes. The first thing my physician told me when I visited him about my anxiety was that I should focus on following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting an appropriate amount of sleep. These steps are crucial. Our mental health is intertwined with our physical health. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, you know that the following day is usually miserable—lack of sleep makes us irrational and cranky. But the symptoms of sleep deprivation are immediate, whereas improper dieting and a lack of exercise may take more time and have subtler results. Provide an example for your children by taking care of yourselves, and encourage them to do the same.
Our mental health is also related to our spiritual health. Does that mean every inactive church member suffers from depression? Not at all. Does that mean that having depression or anxiety makes you spiritually deficient? Again, no. When we talk of spirituality and spiritual health in the LDS Church, I think we often try to simplify it into an easy, understandable check list. Do you say your prayers every morning and night? Do you read your scriptures? Do you go to church on Sunday? Those steps are important, but remember that atheists can still be mentally healthy, and people who attend religious services every week can still be mentally unwell. What matters is your own, deeply personal relationship with God. If you feel that your spiritual health is suffering, despite checking everything off your to-do list, counsel with your bishop.
Remember also that you can’t force spirituality. If you have a child who is suffering a crisis of faith and no longer wishes to attend church, there are healthier ways—for you and your child—to deal with that than by compelling them to go. Be open and communicative with your children; listen to what they have to say; again, counsel with your bishop; and above all, remain faithful. Sometimes all we can do is wait.
Second, understand that adolescence is much harder now than it has ever been. In our economy, getting a job isn’t guaranteed. Understandably, we try to raise children to be hireable in an extremely competitive job market, so of course they have to go to college. But to get in to college, they’ll need a 4.0 GPA and a 36 on the ACT, not to mention AP classes and extracurricular activities. So your kids have to study whenever they’re not at mutual or after-school soccer practice or learning to play the harp or going to the literacy center to teach less privileged children how to read. And, they have to pay for college, while tuition costs are rising every year. So your kid also needs a part-time job, the second they turn sixteen and the state will let them work. And we wonder why they’re falling asleep in class!
As pressures rise, so does the importance of taking care of mental health. What’s the point of getting your kid into college if, after they get there, they struggle so much with depression or anxiety that it’s impossible to get out of bed in the morning to go to class? In our quest for a future, we’re forgetting the present, which should be unforgettable. Relax. Let your kids relax. Don’t expect perfection; don’t demand perfection. We all need a mental health day now and then, so I say, let the kids cut class and take them to a movie. Yeah, they need a job eventually, and they should get an education, but you can find a balance between building hireable adults and having happy children.
Third, mental illness isn’t always explainable. Sometimes it just happens. We might be doing everything medically possible to stay sane—exercising and sleeping well and eating correctly; we might be handling daily stresses in an appropriate way—but there can and will still be times in our lives and in the lives of our children when we simply become overwhelmed, the same way you might get the flu even if you’re washing your hands frequently. You can’t vaccinate yourself against mental illness. In Romans we read that “we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed.” I love the use of the word glory. We don’t just deal with hard things, we welcome them; we’re proud of them. It’s hard to remind yourself that tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience when you’re in the middle of a panic attack, or when you feel so depressed that you can’t get out of bed. It’s hard, when we’re feeling broken, to remember that, in the words of Jeffrey R. Holland, “we chose to live in a fallen world where for divine purposes our pursuit of godliness will be tried again and again.” But we did choose this world, with all its tribulations, and for that we have great reason to hope.
Lastly, I ask you to take your children’s mental health very seriously. If your child came to you with a broken bone, you wouldn’t tell them to walk it off—you’d rush them to the hospital. Similarly, it is unacceptable to dismiss even the less evident signs of breakage in health as the result of hormones or teenage mood swings or just discouragement. Elder Holland says that depression, and here I will add that this could refer to any form of mental illness, is “an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively.” Depression and anxiety are not exclusive to adulthood. And even if it is just a mood swing, listen and learn. Validate their feelings. Express love and acceptance, no matter what.
Your children may not always tell you what they are going through. That’s the Band-Aid mentality. As a teenager, the last thing you want to do is ask for help from your parents; you want to prove that you’re independent and can fix it by yourself. That’s why it’s critical to be open about your own mental health, and to display love and acceptance for those who struggle with mental illness. You can also be on the look-out for warning signs, which include fatigue, insomnia, consistent aches and pains, difficulty concentrating, and changes in personality. Though there’s no easy fix for mental illness, you can help by offering comfort, educating yourself on what they’re going through, and ultimately seeking help from professionals.
Mental illness isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s not an indicator of spiritual deficiency; it is not God’s way of punishing us. It is just something that happens—in the broad spectrum of mental malfunctions, many, many things can go wrong. In Biblical times, mental illness was understood in terms of demonic possession—Christ healed many men and women who were “possessed” by devils, which probably simply meant that they struggled with their mental health.
As Christ offered healing then, so does he now. In the ninth chapter of John, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath. It’s one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. It starts with Christ’s disciples indicating the blind man and asking, “Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
And here I might point out that you can substitute blindness with any infirmity, physical or mental. Who did sin, this child or his parents, that he was born with major depressive disorder? That he was born with crippling anxiety, or debilitating phobias, or compulsions, or manic-depressive mood swings? Who did sin?
“Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
I can’t imagine being that man, being blind from birth, living in total darkness, believing that you’ll never see the sun, or the earth, or your loved ones’ faces. That you’ll never read, or walk in new places without help, or understand what people mean when they speak of color and light. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like, after a lifetime of blindness, to have an entire new world made accessible to you because one man stopped, and made clay, and rubbed it in your eyes. Sometimes mental illness can feel like total darkness, but I testify to you that He is the Light. He is the Way. He can open our eyes, and even if that’s not tomorrow, even if that’s not in the moment when we feel like we need it most, it will happen.
And until then, we live our flawed and broken lives so that the works of God should be made manifest in us, and we must remember that the paramount work of God was the Atonement of his Son, to which we have access every day. The Savior didn’t come here to save perfect people. He came here to save us, and for that reason, we need not be ashamed of our hope. He loves us; He died for us; He wants us to be happy, and He knows that long-term joy and divinity can only be achieved by doing hard things now. Our path may not always be easy, but the obstacles in our way are mere blips in the grand scheme of eternity, and with His help and grace, we can overcome them. Our future is so, so bright.
I testify of the love of our Savior and of our Heavenly Father. I testify that no matter what you are enduring, you are very much not alone. Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” So keep going. You will find that your Savior walks beside you. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.