This last weekend was General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Basically, Church leaders spoke on many different topics for many hours, and we got to sit at home and watch it from our televisions (our computers or whatnot).
I was really hoping for a good mental health talk, especially considering the timing of Mental Illness Awareness week coinciding with Conference, but alas, there was no specific talk directed at mental illness. I did have a few “favorite” talks, though, one of which was entitled “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” by President Russell M. Nelson.
Before I share some quotations from the talk, let’s just be real for a minute here: having a mental health problem isn’t great. Ideally, we wouldn’t want to have mental illnesses, right? They usually complicate and make life that much more difficult. Getting treatment, living day to day…all of that takes time and energy (and money). It’s not like being mentally ill is the desired state.
So, enter President Nelson speaking on joy.
At one point, he said, “Saints can be happy under every circumstance.We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year!”
Now, my husband and I had just been reminiscing about the past year. It was during last October General Conference that my miscarriage began. Then cue the OCD. Breakdowns. Winter depression linked to OCD/medication. Deciding to move. Packing up. Moving. Adjusting to a new place. Getting treatment. Regaining my life. That was my last year: going from maybe my lowest low to a place of stability and contentedness. You could say it was a pretty bad year, or at least that the year started off rough and eventually improved.
So did I feel joy? Was I happy? Definitely not all the time. Do I feel guilty about this? Yes and no. I think sometimes we will be sad, and we shouldn’t feel like we are failing spiritually if that’s the case. President Nelson said we “can” be happy. We “can feel joy.” Not that we will every single time. In 2 Nephi 2:25, Lehi says “men are, that they might have joy.” Might, not “must” or “will.”
Maybe we can say that joy should be our goal. It’s a goal and a possibility, but not always a guarantee. But is it our fault, then, if we aren’t feeling joy? Or is life just too hard sometimes?
This, to me, is where Jesus Christ comes in.
First of all, was Christ always exuding joy? I don’t know. There was that whole money changers in the temple business which apparently made Him fairly upset, and then let’s not forget the Garden of Gethsemane where it is recorded in Luke 22:42 that Christ said, “[…] Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”
Christ went through extremely hard times. Christ went through hard times that were much, much harder than any of our hard times. And while we could say that He maybe didn’t ooze joy in the moment, He always had the end goal in mind. He knew what He was fighting for, and that result was worth it to Him.
President Nelson said,
“As our Savior becomes more and more real to us and as we plead for His joy to be given to us, our joy will increase.”
Elder Hales asked a question in a similar vein earlier in the Conference. He asked,
“If we love the Savior more, will we suffer less?”
I need to reread that talk because, simply from listening, I don’t recall him answering that question directly. But maybe that was intentional. Maybe it’s up to each of us to answer individually, “If we love Christ more, will we suffer less?”
How does knowing (and loving) Christ help us to feel joy and suffer less? Finding out the results personally is definitely worth the experiment, don’t you think?
This connection between suffering and joy is interesting to me. For instance, is suffering a choice? Can two people go through the same experience but only one suffer through it? Can the other person just feel mild discomfort or even joy? Is suffering mental or physical? Or both?
I’m not sure that I have all the answers, but I am willing to trust Elder Hales and President Nelson enough to put their theories to the test.
What about you? Do you think joy is possible in hard times? Does having a relationship with the Savior relieve suffering?