Sacrament Meeting Talk: Remarks based off of an address given by Elder Paul V. Johnson “More Than Conquerors Through Him That Loved Us”.
Elder Johnson said that,“Earth life includes tests, trials, and tribulations, and some of the trials we face in life can be excruciating. Whether it be illness, betrayal, temptations, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, or some other ordeal, affliction is part of our mortal experience. Many have wondered why we must face difficult challenges. We know that one reason is to provide a trial of our faith to see if we will do all the Lord has commanded. Fortunately this earth life is the perfect setting to face—and pass—these tests.”
Each of the tests that Elder Johnson mentions are painful in their own right. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain can be crippling, to the point that we may ask ourselves, as the Prophet Joseph did, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?...how long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, year thy pure eye, behold from the Eternal heavens the wrongs…of thy servants?”
While broken bones, courtships, and expectations lead to what the Lord really wants in us- a broken heart- I have found that there is a certain brand of trial that seem to gnaw deeper at my soul, cause more sleepless nights, and require long talks with my mom and roommates than any other: loneliness.
Loneliness comes in all shapes and sizes, some of a trivial, and some of an eternal nature. It can be the desire to be doing something on a weekend night, wanting someone to celebrate or commiserate with after seeing a score in the testing center, or just wanting, as our friends from Queen have said, “somebody to love.”
Loneliness involves all pain that I can imagine, emotional, mental, spiritual, and can lead to lasting physical problems.
May I share with you a story from my own life about loneliness? The purpose of sharing my feelings is not a request for sympathy, we all have our lonely times, but rather an example of how we can become trapped in our own disappointments, and forget that there is always, always, always, a way out, but only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
In the past six months, I feel like I’ve lost my best friends, though for the best reasons possible. One friend, is currently in Russia, serving a mission, and one of my best friends got married to the girl of his dreams. When the one left, and my roommate moved out at the end of Fall semester, I was able to convince myself that nothing was wrong.
I couldn’t come to grips with the fact that I was lonely. Because these events started in December, it was easy to attribute my feelings to finals and fatigue. Eventually, I felt that I was simply jealous. I wish I had found the girl of my dreams, and that I had somehow tricked her into marrying me. I wish that I was back out on a mission, serving the Lord to the best of my ability. Though these might have been true, I don’t think that envy was the root of how I was feeling.
I knew that my loneliness would end, that I would find the answers to my prayers, feel comfort, and not feel so alone anymore. My answer came one night, while studying Preach My Gospel and looking up corresponding scriptures on the Atonement, I read Isaiah 53, and it touched me in a way that I had never felt before. Here, we can read the prophecy concerning the Savior, what He went through in the Atonement, and why it was important.
3He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
I realized that I felt abandoned by the only person who would never abandon me. Because of my resentment towards others I could not accept the Atonement in my life.I did not understand the most important part of all: that after all the Savior went through, the hardest experience anyone has every been through “with His stripes we are healed.” In the end, the process of the Atonement, the Savior being rejected, despised, and smitten, meant that He could empathize with us when we feel “rejected…smitten of God and afflicted.”
Upon reading these words, I reflected of the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, words that I have often felt could describe the Savior:
"He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it…It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself."
The Lord was able to comfort, because He has been through every single trial that I have, that you have, that we all have! We are able to feel His love when we strive to reach out to Him. He knows of the debilitating power of loneliness. He had been through them Himself.
Elder Holland has taught: “Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically, but perhaps not emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me… For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.”
Elder Johnson added: Our Heavenly Father loves us, and we “know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” 18 Someday when we get to the other side of the veil, we want more than for someone just to tell us, “Well, you’re done.” Instead, we want the Lord to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Feelings of loneliness are not sins. The Savior Himself experienced them, as has every person who has ever walked the Earth.
Joseph Smith once wrote that “I have been…melancholy and down in the dumps.” Imagine the Prophet’s loneliness, he being placed with the great blessing and burden of the Restoration. For a time shouldering the burden of the Book of Mormon alone. Having many of his closest friends and advisors denounce him and his character, some even claiming that God had ceased to support him. Moving county to county, state to state, losing family members, friends, children, and converts. And perhaps the most lonely of all, being taken to Carthage from Nauvoo, looking back at the city that had been built largely on his inspiration and leadership, and knowing that he was never going to see it again.
Thomas S. Monson, when called as a mission president, never having served a mission himself, traveled to Canada with his wife and family, and retired in the backyard. He prayed for help. He prayed for strength, and to do what the Lord wanted him to do. He prayed that he would never lose one of his missionaries, and that he would be led by the Spirit. It took time, but he learned by the Spirit how to lead those missionaries, and didn’t have to send a single missionary home. From feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure, an important step was made in the eternal progression of a prophet of God.
My belief is that we must all feel lonely to become closer to God. When we feel alone, forsaken, and misunderstood, we find that we have never truly been alone. We see that “His arms have been stretched out all the day long,” and that He has been diligently seeking to “gather us, as a hen gathereth her chickens beneath her wings.”
Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus, where His arms are closed, or He is not looking at someone? Have you ever seen a picture of the Savior leaving someone alone? I have not. He seeks to envelop in the arms of His love, and to bless all those what will come unto Him.”
I have found that, in the words of Ezra Taft Benson, "men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and [most importantly], pour out peace."
The Lord is there. Waiting for each of us to take His extended arm.