By: T.F. STERN | Self-Educated American
My remarks are tied in with a talk given during last October’s General Conference, “Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me! ” as given by Reyna I. Aburto. She described being on an airplane high above the clouds with the light bouncing off those clouds; but as the plane descended and they were surrounded by these very same clouds, darkness surrounded them and took over.
(Image: There is no timeline for healing courtesy of tinybuddha.com)
“Some of those clouds are of depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental and emotional affliction. They can distort the way we perceive ourselves, others, and even God. They affect women and men of all ages in all corners of the world.”
I was on my way home from Florida many years ago, flying into a storm system that had delayed our take-off and delayed my arrival in Houston. The closer we got to Houston the worse the storm got; lightning flashing off the interior of the plane as we sped through the night, the plane being bounced like a toy with each passing air mile.
It came as no surprise when the Captain got on the intercom and explained that our flight was being diverted to New Orleans because the weather in Houston was not suitable for landing. As we made our approach prior to landing, the flight attendant gave the customary instructions, “Please place your seats in the upright position and secure your tray tables. We’ll be landing in New Orleans momentarily.”
About that time a woman near the front of the plane jumped up, having slept through the nasty storm and unaware of our having been diverted, yelled out, “Oh my god, I’m on the wrong plane!” Most everyone let out a huge belly laugh, a much-needed relief from the sheer panic of having ridden out the storm. It took the airline janitorial crew about two hours to clean up the inside of the airplane and deodorize it before we could re-board and resume our flight.
Sister Aburto then related an experience, “A friend described it this way: “Since my early childhood, I have faced a constant battle with feelings of hopelessness, darkness, loneliness, and fear and the sense that I am broken or defective. I did everything to hide my pain and to never give the impression that I was anything but thriving and strong.”
“My dear friends, it can happen to any of us—especially when, as believers in the plan of happiness, we place unnecessary burdens on ourselves by thinking we need to be perfect now. Such thoughts can be overwhelming. Achieving perfection is a process that will take place throughout our mortal life and beyond—and only through the grace of Jesus Christ.”
There is so much wisdom included in that last statement, one that we all need to take into our minds and hearts. Whether we’re looking into the mirror, wondering how we’ll survive the challenges that seemly have taken control of our lives, leaving us with doubt and minimizing our joy; or, perhaps we experience these challenges through the lives of family or friends, it’s important to be aware of the ever-changing mental environment which we all must pass through while on our way back to our Heavenly Father’s presence.
Elder Jeffery R. Holland had this to say, “Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being Merciful, Nonjudgmental and Kind.”
He also admonished, “For caregivers, in your devoted effort to assist with another’s health, do not destroy your own. In all these things be wise. Do not run faster than you have strength.7 Whatever else you may or may not be able to provide, you can offer your prayers and you can give “love unfeigned.’”
I’m reminded of the soberness of thought contained in 2 Nephi 4, starting in verse 16.
“Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.”
If you’re paying attention, this is a man who loves the Lord and has been following the path as almost perfectly as can be done. But then he looks into his own soul…
“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” (extra spaces included to permit breathing)
He goes on pleading with the Lord to strengthen him, to keep him on the path of righteousness and to avoid sin; being aware that at any time he might fall into transgression should he forget to include the Lord in all his doings.
I’ve marked this in my scriptures as a “must-read regularly” and have since joined the Church back in 1978. I am, as yet, unable to read it aloud without forming a lump in my throat and sniffling away as moisture gets in the way.
Quoting Sister Aburto, “Sadly, many who suffer from severe depression distance themselves from their fellow Saints because they feel they do not fit some imaginary mold. We can help them know and feel that they do indeed belong with us. It is important to recognize that depression is not the result of weakness, nor is it usually the result of sin. It “thrives in secrecy but shrinks in empathy.” Together, we can break through the clouds of isolation and stigma so the burden of shame is lifted and miracles of healing can occur.”
While contemplating how to approach sharing this difficult topic, at first I couldn’t place myself as having ever been in a state of depression, ignoring a one week period of time when I’d been ‘Indefinitely Suspended’ from the police department, which for all practical purposes was the same as being fired since up until that time no officer had ever gotten his/her job back from the Houston Police Department after such a ruling. My infraction was summed up in one word, Insubordination, followed by a list of untruths intended to make a solid case against me.
I’d been placed in the awkward situation of performing my duties fairly, while at the same time having supervisors who wanted me to ignore a member of the ‘Good Old Boys Club’, someone I’d been issuing parking tickets to for having parked his limo in the fire zone in front of his hotel. Ever hear the term, “You can’t beat City Hall”? That’s what I was up against.
Long story short, I no doubt exhibited a lack of respect for my superiors and after my appeal was completed, did end up with a 40-day suspension; but during that time I had no gainful employment and the odds were slim on getting back on as a police officer. The first couple of days I must have been in a fog, similar to the black clouds described by Sister Aburto.
It took a couple of more days to snap out of it, mostly with the help of my loving wife who encouraged me to use the skills I’d learned as an apprentice locksmith, to simply move forward with the idea that I could provide for my family, just in a different setting.
I began in earnest the task of looking for locksmith customers and being in business, going out and obtaining small used car dealerships that were not being properly serviced by other locksmiths and not worrying about how my Civil Service Hearing would turn out.
I put aside my depression in favor of life, not the one I’d planned; but the one which the Lord had prepared me for. I did get reinstated as a police officer and decided to work night shift because my fulltime locksmith business had become the real breadwinner and my priorities had been made clear as a result of this challenge.
This all happened in the early 80’s and I completed the requirements for a 20-year retirement from the Houston Police Department in 1992, all the while working my locksmith business in the daytime. I joked that I got my four hours of sleep every day whether I needed it or not. I went on to complete roughly 40 years being a self-employed locksmith specializing in restoring lost automobile and truck keys; putting myself out to pasture a couple of years ago and moving up to our property in Buffalo, Texas.
Returning to the wisdom found in that wonderful Conference talk, “If you are constantly surrounded by a “mist of darkness,” turn to Heavenly Father. Nothing that you have experienced can change the eternal truth that you are His child and that He loves you. Remember that Christ is your Savior and Redeemer, and God is your Father. They understand. Picture Them close by you, listening and offering support. “[They] will console you in your afflictions.” Do all you can, and trust in the Lord’s atoning grace.”
“Your struggles do not define you, but they can refine you. Because of a “thorn in the flesh,” you may have the ability to feel more compassion toward others. As guided by the Holy Ghost, share your story in order to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (emphasis added)
I’ve opened an old wound and shared it with you all, one that kept me awake many nights when I should have been sleeping peacefully. I’ve often wondered how I might have handled it differently; should I have bitten my tongue when confronted about writing a silly parking ticket, certainly. Would that have ever happened, not likely; I know myself too well. Perhaps my having shared this will help someone; but even if it’s only one, how great in the eyes of the Lord is the saving of one soul?
In Matthew 11:28-30, this sentiment is recorded for all of us.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
“I testify to you that “thru cloud and sunshine” the Lord will abide with us, our “afflictions [can be] swallowed up in the joy of Christ,” and “it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do.” I testify that Jesus Christ will return to the earth “with healing in his wings.” Ultimately, He “shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more … sorrow.” For all who will “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him,” the “sun shall no more go down; … for the Lord shall be [our] everlasting light, and the days of [our] mourning shall be ended.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”