For this blogfest, I picked a favorite talk from the church's most recent General Conference, and now I'm going to write about it. I chose the talk given by Elder Kent F. Richards called "The Atonement Covers All Pain," and you can read, listen to, or watch it at LDS.org.
So, yeah. Pain.
Dang, this is harder than I thought it would be. I've written the beginning of this post five times, deleting each approach. I ought to forget trying to be clever and just say what I need to say.
I've hurt. So badly I wanted to die. So bad I nearly killed myself to end it. For several years, I dealt with depression ranging from moderate to severe. Ten years ago when I was twenty-one, my illness faded quietly away for the last time. My life now is sweeter than I could imagine during my darkest years.
I've been fortunate not to experience chronic physical pain, but I'm very close to someone who does. My wife developed rheumatoid arthritis a couple years ago. The various medications she's on have been only partially effective, and she has to stop taking the strongest ones whenever she catches a cold or any other infection.
There's this thing about pain that I discovered the other day while discussing Elder Richards' talk with my wife. Though maybe I've known it for years and only just found words to wrap the thought around. I realized that pain is necessary for some of us.
Yeah. I know how that sounds. Preachy. Cold. The uncomforting words of someone on the outside. Maybe I can explain it better. And actually, it's closer to why pain is necessary for some of us. Here's where Elder Richards' talk comes in. He said:
Sometimes in the depth of pain, we are tempted to ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” I testify the answer is yes, there is a physician. The Atonement of Jesus Christ covers all these conditions and purposes of mortality.Do you know what that means? It means there's salvation from more than just the spiritual pain. The Atonement covers emotional and physical pain, too. It covers everything and everyone, from the expiring cancer patient to the depressed young adult. And why not? Are not physical, emotional, and spiritual pain all an equal part of life, of us? Doesn't one inform the others?
But how? When loss and despair grip your chest and squeeze till there's no tomorrow, what on earth does the Atonement have to offer? Simply believing that Christ suffered for our sins offers no answers. Forgiveness doesn't heal disease. It doesn't even cure depression, no matter how much some people think it should. Elder Richards, who is a surgeon, said:
Late one night lying in a hospital bed, this time as a patient and not as a physician . . . I pondered: “How is it done? For whom? What is required to qualify? Is it like forgiveness of sin? Do we have to earn His love and help?” As I pondered, I came to understand that during His mortal life Christ chose to experience pains and afflictions in order to understand us. Perhaps we also need to experience the depths of mortality in order to understand Him and our eternal purposes.
President Henry B. Eyring taught: “It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. … And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.”Wait in distress for someone who knows how to heal us, but won't for some reason. Patience. Yes, yes. Be long-suffering. About as helpful as "Hey, cheer up! It could be worse!" Right? Okay, maybe I'm more cynical than I should be, but when you're in pain, this isn't the balm of Gilead.
Faith in the Savior's power to heal will give us patience. But only if we have faith that he will eventually heal us. Belief in the afterlife offers the same comfort. But as I said to my wife, only partly in jest, sometimes the afterlife can't come soon enough. Sometimes you want to take yourself there.
In such distress, two questions are paramount: Will healing come? When will it come?
The answer to the first is Yes. The answer to the second is—at the best possible time.
You see. . . no, you don't. Neither do I. We're blind to the future. Ignorant of what lines the road we follow. Everyone feels this uncertainty, and those who are suffering feel it keenly. When will it end?
Here's where to set your faith. And here's what Elder Richards says:
As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught: “Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a ‘healing’ cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are ‘healed’ by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us.” All that will come may be “clasped in the arms of Jesus.” All souls can be healed by His power. All pain can be soothed. In Him, we can “find rest unto [our] souls.” Our mortal circumstances may not immediately change, but our pain, worry, suffering, and fear can be swallowed up in His peace and healing balm.Read that last sentence again. "Our mortal circumstances may not immediately change."
How can that be healing? The pain remains. Swallowed up? What does that mean?
For my wife, it means being able to smile at her kids when they jump into our bed in the morning even though her ankles and wrists are on fire. It means days with constant pain don't equal constant grumpiness. It means that some days are endured and others are relished.
For me, it meant having strength to return from a midnight walk when it seemed there wasn't a single person who would really lose anything if I vanished. It meant that even when I hated myself with a venom so toxic it translated to physical pain, deep down I always knew who loved me.
It also meant a dozen small miracles kept me alive long enough for a greater healing, complete and profound. A transformation wrought with counseling and Zoloft and only God knows what else.
Counseling? Psychotropic drugs? What sort of miracle is that? One of modern science? No one on the outside can really know.
But I know. I endured depression long enough to know that it wasn't trivial, wasn't a stage or a passing thing, and wasn't under my control. It's so easy to dismiss inconveniences, illnesses, and daily tragedies as simply part of life. If God had healed me the first, second, or twentieth time I asked Him to, that's all it would have been. A trial to overcome, one that didn't really change me.
But I know I didn't overcome it. I was healed, first in ways that let me live in pain, and then completely. And that stays with me. It's part of me. It finds its way into my perceptions, my opinions, my writing.
I won't make any claims about being a great person because of my past. (Or any sort of good person at all.) I'll say only that my experience set me on the road I now walk. It's not the road I envisioned as a young man wrestling with life, and yet—somehow—it is the same road.
I can't see what's ahead, but I see what's behind. And it's beautiful. Such pain and such wonder along the same path. Now that I know it's possible, yes, I do have faith. And it does give me patience.
There is a physician.
Others in the LDS Writer Blogfest:
Annette Lyon: “Desire”
Annie Cechini: “The Spirit of Revelation”
Ben Spendlove: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Chantele Sedgwick: “LDS Women Are Incredible!”
Charity Bradford: “LDS Women Are Incredible!”
Jackee Alston: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Jenilyn Tolley: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Jennifer McFadden: “Establishing a Christ-Centered Home”
Jessie Oliveros: “Establishing a Christ-Centered Home”
Jolene Perry: “It’s Conference Once Again”
Jordan McCollum: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Kasey Tross: “Guided by the Holy Spirit”
Kayeleen Hamblin: “Become as a Little Child”
Kelly Bryson: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Krista Van Dolzer: “Opportunities to Do Good”
Melanie Stanford: “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?”
Michelle Merrill: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Myrna Foster: “Opportunities to Do Good”
Nisa Swineford: “Desire”
Sallee Mathews: “The Eternal Blessings of Marriage”
Sierra Gardner: “The Atonement Covers All Pain”
Tamara Hart Heiner: “Waiting on the Road to Damascus”
The Writing Lair: “Waiting on the Road to Damascus”